If you’re not going to see Blade Runner this weekend, perhaps you may want to go on an emotional journey in the snow with two of Hollywood’s most charming actors.
The Mountain Between Us has its moments. And you’ll probably either dislike it or enjoy it for what it is, which is a solemn character piece that happens to have a romance between two strangers. It was likable enough once I accepted the story for what it was going to be, but still, I recognize it is no game changer.
Based on the novel by Charles Martin, the film opens with two individuals, Alex (Kate Winslet) and Ben (Idris Elba), being told that their flights are canceled. Both eager to get to their destinations, they decide to let an independent pilot fly them to Denver so that they may catch actual flights once there. Immediately, the story cuts to the chase. We do not see their worlds before they meet each other, but we don’t really need to. She is a journalist and he’s a doctor, and both have a pressing desire to get to where they need to go. For Alex, it’s her wedding to a man named Mark, and for Ben, it is to his patient. And for the purposes of where they end up, that’s all we really need to know for the time being. As expected, however, their flight does not take them to Denver but rather lands them in the middle of some very snowy mountains after their pilot has a stroke mid-flight and dies in the plane crash. With only each other and the pilot’s dog to rely on, Alex and Ben set out on a journey of survival, determined to make it through the mountains alive.
Where the story thrives is in its characters rather than its plot, and the two leads really carry the film. In fact, they are the entire film. Everyone else who appears in the movie acts only as a plot device to advance the development of our two protagonists. While this story has been dubbed a romance in both its novel form as well as its on-screen adaptation, I would argue that it is an individual character piece more than anything. Something interesting the story does is establish a friendship/companionship between Alex and Ben before having them jump into bed together, which is something difficult to save when the story is centered around two attractive people traveling alone in the snow with impending death looming over them. and there are oh so many cozy fire scenes. That being said, their relationship overall was more believable because they became friends first.
Another interesting thing to note is that the entire premise of the film rests on the fact that these two are strangers. This is an interesting angle in and of itself since a typical story would usually throw two people together who either absolutely love or hate one another at the beginning and reverse their position by the end. However, these two really feel nothing for each other in the beginning due to the fact that they are strangers, but by the end, it’s still a little unclear how they feel about one another. Their need is to go home, but by the end of the movie, I’m not exactly sure if their want is each other more than it is a desire for understanding after such a tragic event. We know that Ben needs to learn to accept that he can’t control everything, but Alex’s needs are still a little murky, and by the end, though she makes some life-altering decisions, she still seems confused and unchanged.
The thing to understand about the film is that it can be viewed in one of two ways. One being a literal reading of it which shows a romance between two people who grew to love each other during a traumatic and unforgettable journey. A second could be a more metaphorical perception in which the mountains were just an external fantasy that helped the two characters to solve their own internal conflicts, and they felt compelled to be together because of the situation rather than any sort of destiny pushing them together. In that case, the story raises questions of how to deal with trauma and how to adjust to the real world once it is over. And I couldn’t help myself but ask if these characters should be together or if they had to be together, and it was refreshing to see that they appeared to be asking themselves that very same question.
Still, despite it being a very quiet and dreary film which remains in the same setting for more than half the movie, there are some light-hearted moments and the characters never lose their humanity. Some of the conflict between the two at different points felt forced and produced, which made the situation feel very weak, but once again, they’re both strangers so how much conflict could their really be other than that of being stuck in the snowy mountains?
The scenery is breath-taking and the score, crafted by Ramin Djawadi of Game of Thrones fame, is beautiful. Overall, while this film is not something the world will get extremely excited about, it is worth watching if you enjoy life-altering character dramas tied in with romance or just enjoy perplexing stories in general that question the very realities we live in each day.