The Mountain Between Us is styled and advertised as a kind of mashup between a mountain/snow survival story and a romance. As Mark Kermode coined it “Alive Actually”, mashing up Alive, the rather brutal story of the rugby team that crashed in the Andes, and Love Actually, the rom com where all kinds of not quite obviously matched couples fall in love, including most obviously the servant girl and the prime minister.
While watching it, the first 90% or so of the movie seemed to be heavy on the Alive part of the story, without the cannibalism as Alex, a photo journalist (Kate Winslet), and Ben, a neurosurgeon (Idris Elba), meet, fly in a small plane because they’re too impatient to wait for the big airlines to reopen flights that are closed due to an impending storm, crash and try to rescue themselves against the odds.
When they eventually have sex, while it’s quite tender, it feels more like an expression of being alive and temporarily safe than anything else, at least to me. They’d grown close, clearly, dependent on each other, but was there more than their shared hardship and the joy of surviving together between them? The last 10-15 minutes flip over into classic romance territory make it feel more like a cut-and-shunt than a genuine mashup to me… the front half (or more) is one thing, and the back half (or considerably less) is something else, welded on to look like a single vehicle.
However, if you stop and think about it a bit more, the romance tropes are there throughout. Why is Ben the doctor and Alex the journalist? Alex, inevitably, injures her knee and ankle in the crash, not too severely, and Ben is able to improvise treatment and care for and protect her. I didn’t object to this per se but, if this wasn’t a romance as well, it would have worked just as well the other way round. However, this is a romance, so that alpha-male fantasy, “he’s got to be able to care for and provide for me” element is well and truly there, and catered to. Equally, Ben is rather emotionally closed off, he’s not only British, he’s a control-freak surgeon, and there are more secrets of his that come out during the film. Ben keeping them hidden mostly didn’t feel forced to be honest, and I’m not going to reveal them now, but the pacing of the reveal felt a little odd at the time and very odd as I’m writing this. But Alex is a journalist, she pokes and pries (beyond the bounds of propriety) and gets him to open up to her. Another trope well satisfied - the man is remote, unavailable, but he will open to that special someone and show his vulnerable side to you, because he loves you and you’re the special one that can reach him. The film and the story would work just as well if it was gender-flipped but the book it’s based on would almost certainly not have sold well enough for the story to be made into a film.
The landscapes and the snow are beautiful and the challenges are somewhat harrowing, without ever being really scary. I always knew there was that happy ending to come which lessened the sense of the risks. But it was still enjoyable and very pretty. I didn’t mind the romance elements to be honest, although I felt they were the weakest part of the film for me, and the tropes didn’t scream at me as I was watching and annoy me.
The vast bulk of this film is Winslet and Elba alone together. I have seen quite a bit of her acting before, not so much of his - Luther isn’t quite my thing, I didn’t watch The Wire - and although he’s been in a few films I’ve seen, they’re mostly smaller roles (Heimdall for example, in Thor). Carrying a whole film with just the two of them is pretty hard work, and I was impressed at how well they did.
I would say it’s worth a watch if you like the wilderness survival stuff and it’s probably worth a watch if you like a good romance too.
Bechdel Test: Yes, just, I think. After they get back, Alex has a chat to someone about the photos she took and I’m sure she starts by saying her name (Pamela according to IMDB). If not, then no, on the conversation between two named female characters rule. There is another named female character, but she only talks to Ben.
Russo test: no. Ben, Alex, Mark and Walter are the only ones where we know their sexuality and they’re all straight. We don’t see anyone openly LGBT+ at Mark and Alex’s swanky NY party even, which might have been enough for a partial pass.
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