My boyfriend has been having trouble sleeping lately. Since he has barely slept in the past two days, I suggested that we watch a “boring” movie about hiking. I even remarked, “This will put you to sleep for certain,” and we started to watch Tell It on the Mountain, a story of seven people’s journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,600 mile trek from Mexico to Canada. But once the film started, my beau didn’t check his iPad, his iPhone, his wristwatch or anything else for that matter. He sat engrossed in the film, witnessing the evolution of seven individuals as they marched along one of the most beautiful and rugged sections of the American West. He even insisted that we watch the movie to the end – staying up late with his eyes wide open – not drooping a second – until the film ended.
What’s remarkable about this film is its quiet grace. Producer Shaun Carrigan and Director Lisa Diener did not mar the pristine landscape with personal tragedy – in order to dramatize the scenery – one of the aspects of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild that upset so many hikers. The filmmakers did not get lost in the mire of self-hood and sulking, so popular with memoirs these days. Instead, they told deeply personal stories about life outside, keeping their focus on the scenery and the human expressions of delight, fear, pain and happiness.
That took incredible skill. The film touched on many themes, which I’ve struggled to articulate myself: the freedom and beauty that envelopes the very soul and heart of hikers, the sense of individualism and unity that comes with walking alone and with others, and the incredible feeling of being alive and connected to the wild landscape. With only the essentials on your mind and beauty before your eyes, you forget all about the material world with its excess and ugliness and instead are free to examine yourself, your life and the mountain skyline.
A year or so ago, I tried to explain to my book editor that writing a confessional about my life – was not what I was intending – because it would put me before the most beautiful thing that I’ve come to know, and that’s backwards. The wilderness is the primary thing, the first and best thing we have in America. While I’m still sorting out exactly how to express that, Carrigan and Diener got it exactly right in this film. They told great stories, seven of them, and they effectively enshrined the wilderness as a sacred place and life on the trail as a spiritual, physical and mental odyssey. It’s a triumph. Bravo.
Watch it – rather than the big game.
We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.—John Hope Franklin