The new film “The Mountain Between Us” is both an epic survival story of two strangers trapped in Utah’s unforgiving High Uintas Wilderness and a dramatic love story featuring Kate Winslet (as the photojournalist Alex Martin) and Idris Elba (as the surgeon Ben Bass). Here’s what to expect from “The Mountain Between Us” when it hits movie screens on October 6.
The most distinguishing aspect of “The Mountain Between Us” is that it combines two movie genres – the survival/disaster movie and the romantic drama – into one. The basic premise of the film is that two complete strangers – Alex Martin and Dr. Ben Bass – are the only passengers aboard a tiny charter plane when it crashes into a Utah mountainside. At the time of the crash, Alex Martin is on the way to see her fiancé (as played by Dermot Mulroney) and Dr. Ben Bass is on the way to complete a number of important surgeries.
And that’s where the action really takes off. The two strangers must get off the mountain despite being injured, having little or no food, and facing the very real prospect that the extreme conditions of the mountain – the freezing temperatures, the random cougars wandering the slopes – will spell their demise before help ever gets to them. Since they were flying a charter plane, there was no official record of their flight plan, so waiting for help inside the shell of the crashed plane simply isn’t an option.
In an interview, the Oscar-nominated director of the film, Hany Abu-Assad (“Paradise Now” and “Omar”), noted that one of his inspirations for the project was the famous 1951 film “The African Queen” (starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn), which is also simultaneously a love story and a survival story. The key, of course, is getting just the right mix: you want the elements of romance to arise organically from the action happening on the screen, so that movie audiences find the romantic storyline to be believable.
Where things get really complicated is the personal chemistry between Kate Winslet and Idris Elba. These two would appear to make a perfect pairing, but they weren’t actually the first people chosen to appear in the lead roles. Two other actors – Michael Fassbender and Charlie Hunnam – were actually tapped to play the role of Dr. Ben Bass; likewise, two different actresses – Margot Robbie and Rosamund Pike – were tapped to play the role of Alex Martin.
Whether the film succeeds at the box office is really based on the ability of Winslet and Elba to make a convincing romantic pair. What we know already from the book that inspired the movie is that the character of Alex Martin is having second thoughts about getting married to her fiancé and that Dr. Ben Bass is estranged from his wife but still loves her. So a large part of the plot revolves around how the plane crash in the desolate Utah wilderness changes their perspectives on life and love.
And there’s one more thing to keep in mind – Kate Winslet has mentioned in an interview that the all-time blockbuster “Titanic” prepared her, in some ways, for “The Mountain Between Us.” If you think about it, the basic plotlines are roughly very similar – two people fall in love amidst an epic disaster #fail. But “The Mountain Between Us” takes that one step further, by turning much of the film into an epic survival drama. But it does raise the question: Could this film become a romantic movie that married 40-year-olds want to see? (After all, Kate Winslet is now 41 and Idris Elba is 45.)
There are a number of big themes that emerge from “The Mountain Between Us.” One of them, of course, is the power of love. Love is what keeps you moving on a frozen mountainside when there seems to be no escape. Love is what keeps you alive when there seems to be no hope.
Another big theme can be summed up with a simple question: What is the true meaning of life? Is it enough just to survive, or is there some higher calling in life? As much as we all like to believe in some higher purpose, the reality is that most of us trudge along, day to day, doing the same things the same way. We live, as Henry David Thoreau once remarked, “lives of quiet desperation.”
This film is meant to challenge that thinking, and to get people thinking about what really matters in their lives. For Kate Winslet’s character, for example, it means really thinking about whether she is just “settling” for a man she’s agreed to married, or whether she is truly happy with him.
If you’ve seen the trailer for “The Mountain Between Us” (or read the book of the same name by Charles Martin), then you know that this film is really going to deliver on the action sequences. There’s one scene where Dr. Ben Bass almost falls off the side of a mountain, and one scene where Alex Martin steps through a crack in the ice into a freezing, dark hole of icy water.
In interviews, the film’s director Hany Abu-Assad has commented on the preparation work required to film on a mountainside. While the action of the film takes place in the Utah mountains, filming actually occurred in Canada, in the wintry terrain between Alberta and British Columbia. Moreover, Assad has said that Elba and Winslet wanted to do their own stunts. So expect a lot of realism from this movie – you’ll feel like you’re also stranded in the snowy, remote wilderness.
The tagline for this movie is: “What if your life depended on a stranger?” So far, it looks like a successful hook for the film. The film is being marketed not as a love story, but more of an impossible survival story. The “mountain” in the movie’s title is not just the physical terrain of the Utah landscape – it’s also the complex psychological and emotional terrain separating the characters played by Kate Winslet and Idris Elba. This film definitely looks like one of the more compelling Hollywood movies coming to the big screen this fall.