Based on the Charles Martin novel of the same name, The Mountain Between Us answers the question, “what happens when two attractive, charismatic people get trapped on a mountain together?” Hint: If you think you already know the answer to this, you’re probably right.
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Ben Bass (Idris Elba) and Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) are both stranded at an airport when an impending storm cancels outgoing flights. Both are desperate to get to their destinations. Ben is a surgeon flying to perform heart surgery on a child and Alex is trying to get to her own wedding. When Alex overhears Ben discussing his problem she approaches him to ask if he’d charter a flight with her. They find a pilot named Walter (Beau Bridges), who is willing to fly them. Walter takes the duo (and his dog) up, but suffers a stroke mid-flight causing the plane to crash into the mountains below them.
After the crash, Ben awakes to find Walter dead and Alex’s leg badly broken. Of course, the dog is alive and pretty much seems fine. At first, Ben wants to stay put and wait for help to come. Since Walter decided not to file a flight plan, Alex is less inclined to believe that help is coming for them. After a few days, and fighting off a mountain lion with a flare gun Alex decides to head out on her own to get down the mountain. Not wanting to be alone or leave Alex alone, Ben follows her. It’s worth noting, that Ben and Alex don’t really get along that well when they first meet each other and they both lash out at each other during this stressful circumstance. Eventually, they start to work things out, learn about each other, and trust each other a bit more. After several days of climbing, sliding, stumbling and falling down the mountain, with the dog in tow, they manage to make their way to an abandoned cabin.
Just as Ben finds the cabin, Alex falls through the ice into a body of water hidden beneath it. Ben is able to pull her out, but she’s left in pretty bad condition. Ben is able to create some make-shift medical supplies and Alex comes back after a couple of days. They are able to stay in the cabin for a few days as Alex recovers and Ben goes out to gather fire wood and whatever food he can gather. While Ben is away, Alex takes it upon herself to listen to the voice recorder he carries with him. She wants to learn more about Ben, but she ends up learning more than she bargained for. The recording she hears is the voice of Ben’s late wife. Ben is upset by the violation, but tells her to listen to the entire message. He prepares to leave but Alex reaches out and kisses him, leading to them having sex in the cabin. Afterwards, Ben tells Alex the whole story about his wife and how she became his patient after developing an incurable brain tumor.
After sleeping with Alex, Ben decides that he’s not going to let her die on this mountain and is determined to head out on his own to find help. This time, it’s Alex who chases after him. With her still injured leg, the couple continues their trek down the mountain. Soon, they find a lumber mill out in the distance. Before they head towards it, the dog runs off (for like the 100th time) and Alex asks Ben to go find him. Ben finds the dog, but gets his leg caught in a bear trap on the leg back. After seeing Ben injured, Alex heads to the lumber mill as quickly as she can, passing out when she gets there. She is able to direct people to find Ben and both are taken to a nearby hospital to recuperate. When Ben wakes up, he heads to Alex’s room to check on her. When he gets there he meets her fiance, Mark (Dermot Melroney). Reality kicks in a Ben leaves the room, after some awkward exchanges of gratitude.
Both seem to be in relatively good shape all things considered. However, Ben’s hand suffers some permanent damage and he walks with a potentially permanent limp after getting caught in the bear trap. They return to their respective lives. Ben is now a general doctor instead of a surgeon because of the damage to his hand; he also adopts the dog. He also avoids taking any calls from Alex because he thought she was married and didn’t want to infringe on that with his feelings for her. Alex ends up never getting married. She isn’t able to fully fit back into her life after her experience on the mountain. Eventually, she breaks things off with Mark and reaches out to Ben by sending him some of the intimate pictures that she took on the mountain.
After receiving the pictures Ben finally reaches out to Alex and the two meet in Manhattan to catch up. Alex admits that she was in love with Ben, but Ben can’t bring himself to take the final step and tell her that he wants her back. They both leave their meeting place and head in different directions. However, as they each round the corner their faces show immediate regret and they each, on their own, turn and run back towards each other and run into each other’s arms.
- Alex is in the airport because she was on assignment, photographing Neo-Nazis. Seems like that’s a weird thing to be doing right before your wedding.
- I don’t recall that it’s ever directly stated where Ben and Alex crash, but Alex was trying to get to her wedding in Denver. So, it seems like they were either in or near the Rockies.
- Ben refuses to name that dog. I don’t think he ever even gives it one by the end of the movie.
- Alex’s publisher tells her that she could easily sell the pictures of her experiences on the mountains (because she’s so sure that she was taking pictures the whole time). However, Alex hesitates to use the pictures. Part of the reason may have been because she was still feeling guilty about sleeping with Ben and some of the pictures might be incriminating in that respect.
- Since Alex is a photographer, it gets them plenty of excuses to stop and focus on the scenery as she snaps photos of her environment during the harrowing experience. If nothing else, I’m sure you could get a nice picture book out of the scenery from this movie.
What did I think?
This is a movie that is both helped and hindered by it’s nature. At the end of the day this is a movie where you know, almost from the outset, that things are going to end with the two beautiful people getting together. It helps because it lets the viewer know that things are going to turn out okay no matter how dismal the situation becomes. You know that there’s going to be a happy ending no matter what else the movie gives you. Unfortunately, it also feels like there are times that the movie tramples over itself in order to get to that happy resolution. For example, Alex and Ben pretty much hate each other for the first half of this movie. Their initial meeting goes from cordial to cold within moments of them getting on that plane together. After they crash, they do almost nothing but argue between bouts of helping each other survive. Then, when they get to the cabin, Ben catches her in the midst of a huge invasion of privacy. At what should be the height of their conflict, they end up having sex. Now, some people will argue somewhere along the logic of “there’s a thin line between love and hate”. However, to me, it comes of as “well, we can’t have two people this beautiful trapped together without them bangin’ it out.” And I get that impulse. To be honest, I’d probably watch a showing of these two just sitting at a table talking like they did at the end of the movie.
The ending of the movie is also guilty of copping out for the sake of romance. There’s a lot of great tension that’s built up between Ben and Alex. The feeling of unrequited desire between them is almost palpable. The movie completely releases that tension when it shows them run into each other’s arms. Yes, that release is gratifying, but that gratification is small and fleeting comparing to the effect that could’ve been achieved by leaving any kind of ambiguity about how things resolved. I would’ve loved it if they had cut the movie just at the moments after they show the distressed closeups of each character before they turn. That would’ve left you with the kind of ending that you could have a discussion about. To be fair to the movie, I went to see it with a friend, who would’ve probably been “hearbroken” if the movie had ended the way that I wanted it to. So, I get that there’s a lot of people who want movies to end that way. I don’t want every movie to end that way, but I feel like this is one that could have. Elba and Winslet are so great a playing conflict off of each other that I felt like that was the beat the movie that should’ve been ended on, two people who clearly like each other but couldn’t quite get past themselves to try building a real relationship.
Then again, this is just what I think. So, for those who want a happy ending with some strong acting/chemistry, pretty scenery and a contrived plot, this is the movie for you.
The Mountain Between Us (2017)
- Winslet and Elba have great chemistry on screen
- Movie poses some interesting ideas about human relationships and dependency/reliance on others
- Movie insists on having a happy ending
- Beautiful scenery
- The movie's ending feels like it's taking the easy way out and/or relenting to the demands of a focus group
- There are parts of the set-up that you can't think too hard about without them falling apart