The Mountain Between Us (sort of a movie review)

12 Jan

I first heard about this movie on twitter, a few months ago, when the question of whether it was a romance or not was asked (@mostlybree doing the Lord’s work). Looking up a bit more information, I discovered that it is a film adaptation of the novel of the same name, written by…some dude I had never heard of.¹

Which explained, to me, why I had basically heard nothing about the movie until just a couple of weeks before it came out, when it seemed as if the marketing team suddenly realized that a) Idris Elba fucking sells, b) romance readers will go see romances, and c) a romance starring Idris Elba really fucking sells. Suddenly, all sorts of trailers for the movie, highlighting the romance angle, popped up on twitter and youtube.

Here’s one:


The short teaser: there’s weather coming, and a number of airports on both sides of the Rockies are closing ahead of the storm. Both Alex and Ben have pressing reasons to get out of Dodge…erm, Boise. Unable to find a seat in the last commercial flights out, and through a connection of Alex’s, they charter a small plane to get them to Denver, where they may be able to catch connecting flights to the East Coast. Unfortunately, their pilot, Walter (played charmingly by Beau Bridges), suffers a cardiac episode as they approach some of the mountain ridges in their route, and the plane crashes. Stranded during a particularly bad storm, in winter, above the snow line, Alex and Ben have to find a way to survive.

Please note: I’m going to go into some detail on the rest of the plot after the cut, so if you are planning on seeing this movie unspoiled, you may want to avert your eyes, perhaps come back *after* you’ve seen it.

You’ve been warned: here there be spoilers!

~ * ~

Now, I have strong opinions on a lot of things, which is why I bitched pretty much from the start about the many genre romances, written by female romance authors, with this exact premise² that get shouted down as ‘stupidly unrealistic’ by…well, everyone. Have a man write it, and they get a movie deal (more on this at the end). A small budget, somewhat limited distribution movie deal, yes, but with two pretty big stars.

One of which is Idris Elba–which means I was going to watch it at some point, obviously.

Thanks to a friend’s generosity, I was finally able to watch it a couple of weeks ago.

Sadly, despite Idris, nudity, and already lowered expectations, I found it…underwhelming.

(If you really liked the movie, this is the perfect place to stop reading–it just goes downhill from here)

Mind you, I have not read the novel, so I have no idea how much it conforms to the tropes of genre romance as I know it, let alone how tight the plotting, rich the setting, good the characterization, etc., may be.

Here I’m talking exclusively about the movie I saw, no deleted scenes, featurettes, explanations, addendums, etc.

In the first couple of scenes, we see Alex as the take charge, resourceful, pretty badass woman type. We soon learn that she’s a photojournalist, and later on, we are told that she often travels to war zones, natural disaster areas, etc. on her own. This is no wilting flower.

And, because she’s been in some rather hair raising situations before, she knows just what they are facing, and just how low their chances of survival, let alone an actual rescue, are. To make this clear to the viewer, one of the first things Alex says upon waking up after the crash is a version of the survival rule of three.

So we have a take charge, smart and resourceful heroine–which should have been awesome. Unfortunately, a lot/most of Alex’s dialogue and actions come across as the ‘sassy’ heroine of those old skool romances, who plows ahead recklessly, only to end up needing to be rescued by the hero.

As for Ben, right off the bat we learn that he’s a surgeon and that he’s aloof–he shoots down Alex’s nosiness from the start, and remains closed off for most of the movie. We only learn his motivations well into the last third or so.

So here we have the closed off hero, who has actual, valid, realistic reasons to be closed off: one, emotional baggage; two, personality.

Now, when the plane crashes, resourceful, badass Alex is pretty much out for the count–not only unconscious for a period of time (at least a full day, maybe even two, time moves weirdly in this movie), but also with a pretty severe leg injury.

At which point, Ben turns out to be sort of a McGyver apprentice, and immediately takes steps to ensure their survival. He finds fuel, gets a small fire going, weatherproofs the wreckage, buries Walter, procures water, takes care of Alex’s wounds–hell, he even magically engineers a leg brace.

(Magically because he’s never shown carrying more than a small bag, yet the brace looks to me like an actual brace, not a makeshift splinter or suchlike–and I’m not buying that a first aid kit, whether from the plane or one he carts about, have that large a brace.)

Ben’s resourcefulness here bugged the hell out of me, as it is never explained. Yes, some of it is just being sensible, but some of it requires a bit more in the way of survival experience than makes sense given Ben’s background–not just what we know at this point, but all that it’s revealed by the movie’s end.

At this point, we can cheer: two smart, resourceful characters!

Except, not quite. As soon as Alex wakes up, and assesses their situation (where they are, the fact that no one knows they are there or even where they were going, and how unlikely it is a search will even be launched…), these two basically bicker.

He wants to ‘let the system work’ and wait just where they are for search and rescue.

She wants to head down the mountain and try to find civilization.

At one point, he basically tells her to sit down and shut up–which would make sense if he was the one with survival experience, and she was simply being a brat. Neither of which apply here.

After a couple/three/five days (who knows?), as Ben sleeps like the exhausted, half-frozen and starving, Alex grabs her things (and the famous dog), leaves him a note, and leaves.

(Mind you, I have a vague memory of Alex saying something about having reached the point of eating individual peanuts/cashews/almonds/some such, and there may have been some mention of how much time has passed, but I honestly cannot tell you if it was one week or three.)

Regardless of time passage, please note the following: Alex leaves alone, without food. without means to start a fire to melt snow for water or to stay warm, without means to defend herself from predators (at this point in the movie, there has already been a mountain lion attack), and on an injured leg.

This is where the smart, resourceful heroine becomes almost TSTL–never mind the passive-aggressive bullshit of sneaking out and leaving a note.

At some point after this (the same day? the following day?–again, who knows!?!?) Ben follows her. It’s never clear to me whether he decides to follow her because he feels their chances are better together, or because he feels responsible for her fate/wants to help or protect her, or because he realizes she’s right about how unlikely rescue is at this point.

Whatever the case, Ben heads down the mountain, finds Alex, and together they trudge on. Some stuff happens, and Ben once again rescues Alex after, through no fault of her own, she ends up going under in a frozen pond.

Which is yet another excuse for magical, resourceful Ben: in an abandoned, half demolished cabin, he manages to find a syringe and inject Alex with *something* (what? never explained) that brings her back from…a coma? hypothermia? whatever it may be, we have dramatic visuals of Alex unconscious while Ben does things, but it’s never clear what exactly he is doing, or why he does it (at least, not to me).

At this point there are a few other things that bugged the bejeesus out of me.

One: Alex is not only still carrying her camera, and zoom lens, and whatever else, but everything is perfectly preserved and working.

Second: Ben’s phone AND his little recording device still work! still have charges! (no signal, though)

Three: As soon as we learn why Ben is so detached, they talk and decide that Ben will try to find help while Alex–who is weaker by far, what with the leg injury and the dunking–waits for rescue in the relative shelter of the cabin, they suddenly are overcome by passion and have sex.

Unfortunately, and because this is a movie and not a book, and we can only learn the characters motivations by what we see and hear, by the time the characters are getting it on on the screen, I was not just not sold on any attraction between them, but pretty skeptical of the whole romance bit.

It is not that the actors don’t have chemistry, it’s that there is no sexual tension between the characters. Like many voracious romance readers, I’ve seen repressed sexual attraction expressed as bickering more than once. That is not what the earlier bickering between Alex and Ben conveys, and, despite how much the actors try, neither the dialogue nor the script conveyed sexual attraction between them, let alone emotional attachment, to me.

After this, there’s a bit more on getting off the mountains, and Alex finally gets to be the one saving the day, and there’s some other stuff between this point and the ending–it’s a romance, it’s not a spoiler to say that they end together–but, I’ll be honest, by then, I had checked out of the movie.

I don’t quite regret the time spent watching the movie (hello, Idris! and really, Kate Winslet too), but there’s no way I’m ever watching it again.

~ * ~

I recognize that I started the movie already biased against it simply because the author is male.

However, the fact that the director is also male, and that the whole thing is told from the male gaze pov, as well as in an emotionally distant manner, didn’t help matters.

Beyond which, I think there were issues with the editing. It really shouldn’t have been that hard to figure out how much time passed between one thing and the next, or to have an idea how long it was between the plane crash and Alex’s shining moment.

But mostly, I’m pissed that there was a last minute push to sell this movie to the romance readers/romance movie watchers, without the respect of making it with us in mind from the get go.

Which, in turn, means the movie doesn’t deliver for us (okay, for me, it doesn’t deliver for me).

I want certain things from romances, and I’m done being apologetic about it.

Among those things, if the heroine is supposed to be the one who knows her shit, don’t make her an idiot or trip her up so the hero can overshadow her. Let her freaking SHINE. A man worth the name won’t be diminished or feel emasculated when the woman saves their bacon using her expertise in the area where he’s a babe in the woods.

And I’m also done accepting platitudes about why the same stories when written by men get attention, money and exposure, because “quality,” while women writers are told to stay in their little corner, and not to expect so much out of our ‘simple’ and ‘superficial’ fantasies.

Fuck that noise.

~ * ~

¹ Wikipedia tells me the author is Charles Martin. Still don’t know him from the post in the corner.

² The one that immediately sprang to my mind, because I’ve re-read it a number of times, is Linda Howard’s Up Close and Dangerous (my review); please note there are plenty of issues with Mr Howard (hints with links here), but at least when she writes competent women, they ARE competent.

5 Responses to “The Mountain Between Us (sort of a movie review)”

  1. KeiraSoleore 12/01/2018 at 8:52 PM #

    What a pity the movie played out the way it did. It had such a good premise and with those actors, it could’ve been a good movie, but yeah, the male POV spoiled it.

    • azteclady 12/01/2018 at 9:10 PM #

      It may not play that way to others, but to me, spoiled by good writing of capable women, it did seem so.

      And again, I came into it biased, which I’m sure made things stand out that other viewers will likely shrug at, or maybe not even see at all.

  2. Sonia 17/01/2018 at 9:30 AM #

    Well, I did read the book before seeing the movie and as always, it’s completely different but…
    The book’s author is male too so some plot decisions don’t seem as weird thinking that, plus the book is more focused on Ben’s past and his inner monologues, rather than the action in front of him. I wouldn’t say the book is a romance, rather that it has romantic elements.

    • azteclady 17/01/2018 at 9:36 AM #

      I did wonder whether there was some stuff left in the editing room floor that would have made the characters’ interactions more…sympathetic, I guess? to me.

      I would consider the movie a romance (if a failed one in my eyes), because the big finale is the character running into each other’s arms, after Ben tells Alex that they survived because they fell in love.

      • Sonia 18/01/2018 at 7:32 AM #

        Yes, I saw the movie and everything happens in a way to convince the viewer of it. In the book, the lack of a believable relationship between the protagonists made me think the romance too lacking.

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