The Summit of the Gods, 2021.
Directed by Patrick Imbert.
Featuring the voice talents of Éric Herson-Macarel, Damien Boisseau, Elisabeth Ventura, Lazare Herson-Macarel, Kylian Rehlinger, François Dunoyer, Philippe Vincent, Luc Bernard, Gautier Battoue, Marc Arnaud, and Jérôme Keen.
A photojournalist’s obsessive quest for the truth about the first expedition to Mt. Everest leads him to search for an esteemed climber who went missing.
While not necessary for an animated feature to be considered incredible, there is a considerable extra pleasure when the format is utilized in place of strenuous physical activity and material that would be nearly impossible to replicate through live-action methods (with or without special effects). Technically, co-writer and director Patrick Imbert’s The Summit of the Gods is based on a manga from Baku Yumemakura and Jirô Taniguchi, but the breathtaking yet straightforward transition visualized on the page to animation yields awe-inspiring and stomach-dropping sights captured from angles and dynamics of mountaineering impossible otherwise.
The plot centers on photojournalist Fukamachi (voice of Damien Boisseau), becoming disillusioned with covering winter climbers unprepared and unqualified to be doing so, but is gravitated back into the area of expertise following a spotting of former climber thought to be dead Habu (voice of Eric Herson-Macarel as an adult). He is also in possession of a storied camera that’s contents could better illustrate whether or not British climber George Mallory was the first to reach the top of Mount Everest before perishing on the way down, or if he simply never made it.
From here, The Summit of the Gods splits up into two storylines, one of the past and one of the present. As Fukamachi conducts research and interviews, hoping to obtain information on the general area Habu could be hiding out in, flashbacks play out, providing insight into the climber’s brash early days. Habu (voiced as a young adult by Lazare Herson-Macarel) is abrasive and hardly a team player. He is highly driven to achieve his mountaineering goals and firmly drops advice for others to cut his rope if he ever puts a pair of climbers into a life-threatening predicament dangerously close to claiming their lives. As he puts it, it doesn’t make sense for two people to die instead of one.
Habu also somewhat lets his guard down by taking a teenager under his wing for climbing, seeing something special in his abilities. Without giving too much away, aspects of this end in disaster that come to haunt Habu (something startlingly and chillingly realized here aesthetically through horrifying art direction) anytime he tries to ascend. Yet, as the film catches up to Habu in the present day, he still feels a compulsion to climb, possibly as a form of self-punishment or the usual solo climbing speeches regarding adrenaline, feeling alive, sense of accomplishment, and challenging body and mind to its absolute limit. There’s also a rival present, also factoring into the events at play here with more traces of peril, leaving questions of why anyone would want to take this up as a hobby.
It’s a confounding state of mind that The Summit of the Gods eventually attempts to answer, albeit with unsatisfactory results. The real brilliance here comes from the tension and terror of watching Habu make one last crack at Everest under a new set of circumstances, the mystery at hand involving George Holloway, and the chest-tightening intensity from every vertical maneuver, snowy cave-in, and bitter depiction of harsh weather conditions. Through animation, The Summit of the Gods illuminates solo winter mountaineering as a genuinely hellish and frightening experience, here with multidimensional characters and riveting drama to boot.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com