‘Torn’ Review: A Climber’s Son Explores His Father’s Legacy

‘Torn’ Review: A Climber’s Son Explores His Father’s Legacy

Movies|‘Torn’ Review: A Climber’s Son Explores His Father’s Legacy

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/02/movies/torn-review.html

Critic’s Pick

This documentary on the life and death of the mountaineer Alex Lowe demonstrates how unexpected bonds can form around those in grief.

Credit…Jennifer Lowe-Anker/National Geographic Documentary Films

Torn
NYT Critic’s Pick
Directed by Max Lowe
Documentary
1h 32m

Within “Torn,” a brutally intimate documentary on the life and tragic death of the mountaineer Alex Lowe directed by his son, Max, there’s little focus on the world-renowned climber’s many impressive feats to the summit, or even the psychology behind what made him push his body and stamina to their limits. Rather, the film turns its gaze to those who knew Lowe best — or, in the case of his three children, those who barely got the chance to know him at all.

It’s a stark tonal shift away from “Free Solo,” one of National Geographic’s previous (and much-lauded) documentaries on a climber, which built a character study around Alex Honnold’s exhilarating free solo climb of El Capitan. Max Lowe, who was only 10 when his father was killed in an avalanche in Tibet, aligns his project closer to “Stories We Tell,” Sarah Polley’s 2013 exploration of her own family history that puts as much emphasis on digging up the truth as the truth itself.

Though there are no real secrets to be uncovered regarding Alex Lowe’s motivations for climbing, nor his infectiously exuberant personality in life — which, as seen in the many archival tapes that Max gets access to, could occasionally cause frustration to those around him — the film unavoidably feels confessional and cathartic. The director’s conversations with his mother, Jennifer; his younger brothers, Sam and Isaac; and his stepfather, Conrad Anker, who was once Alex Lowe’s most trusted mountaineering partner, all straddle the line between interview and healing circle, trying to reconcile the real, mortal Alex with the Superman that they and the public at large saw him as. Learning to not only see but embrace that humanity is the central thread of “Torn,” which, by its quiet ending, has demonstrated how unexpected bonds can form around those in grief.

Torn

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theaters.

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