Mark Reviews Movies

6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Scott Waugh

Cast: Josh Hartnett, Mira Sorvino, Sarah Dumont, Jason Cottle, Kale Brady Culley, Austin R. Grant

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including drug addiction, some disturbing images and brief partial nudity)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 10/13/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 12, 2017

It is always best to remain skeptical of claims that some event was a miracle. That's not only because of the unprovable supernatural and/or religious connotations of the word. It's also because it suggests that something happened primarily because of blind chance or dumb luck.

The ordeal that Eric LeMarque went through on Mammoth Mountain in California only seems miraculous if one removes the one crucial and constant element of his story: LeMarque himself. 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain tells LeMarque's story of being lost in that mountain range for eight days, unable to contact anyone or to find his way back to the safety of the ski area's resort. It's a story of physical resilience and psychological determination, along with some resourcefulness.

Whether or not it's a miracle that he survived is a question for those who would rather see some greater power beyond the qualities of which human beings are capable. If answering in the affirmative works for them, that's fine, but to do so is to sell ourselves short as a species. LeMarque survived, not—as far as we can possibly know—because of some divine intervention or some unknown power, but because he wanted to, knew how, and was willing to put himself through considerable pain in order to do so.

Lest anyone think that revealing what happens to LeMarque is some kind of spoiler, it should be pointed out that it was news at the time—in 2004. Also, if the title itself doesn't give it away, then certainly the opening credits—which inform us that LeMarque is one of the movie's producers and that the screenplay is based on a book that he wrote (with Davin Seay) about his experience—do the rest of the job for us. Knowing that he survived is of secondary concern. The real question is how he did.

The movie, written by Madison Turner and directed by Scott Waugh, is of two minds on the matter of that question. In one regard, it is most definitely because LeMarque, played by Josh Hartnett, is smart enough to figure out ways around every obstacle he encounters. In another, though, it's because the eight days in the mountains is some kind of test—one that goes beyond his personal demons (drug addiction and a father who pushed him too hard, before abandoning him) and into the realm of something greater than himself or anyone else trying to find him.

The movie's Eric seems to know this, because he spends some time looking up to the sky, as if some answer will come to him from above, and having a one-sided conversation with an unseen "You." After he's forced to sleep in a hole that he has dug out of the snow to protect himself from a pack of howling wolves, he draws a map of events with a branch in the snow. The place where the "You" made him sleep was here, and the wolves that the "You" sent were there. That spot where the "You" almost made him fall off a cliff was over here. This "You" causes a lot of problems for Eric. When he's holding a chunk of skin that has come off because of frostbite, after days without any food, he looks up to sky, either to ask permission or to check that this is yet another of the trials that the "You" has placed before him.

This is subtle enough that the movie can't quite be called a religious one (although the song that plays over the closing credits seems to believe otherwise), but the pieces are all there for those who would want to claim it—and, hence, LeMarque's story—as proof of some divine presence in this experience. By the end, one wishes that the movie had taken a stand one way or the other. Either this is a spiritual test, in which case Eric would have to confront the implications of that head on, or it has nothing to do with the spiritual or the supernatural, in which case Eric's story is a case of purely human strength against the odds.

The movie doesn't choose, which puts it in a squishy sort of middle ground. One suspects that Turner, in writing those moments with an unseen presence and the scenes with Eric's Bible-reading mother (played by Mira Sorvino), had one concept in mind. Waugh, focusing on the stark landscape and harsh realities of surviving in below-zero temperatures for over a week, was more concerned with the practical side of the story. Waugh's outlook comes out ahead in this mishmash, if only because of the undeniable physical and emotional torture that Eric endures—frostbitten legs, a hidden lake frozen over with fragile ice, the inopportune timing of going through drug withdrawal, coming ever-so close to getting a signal on his portable radio, staring at his torn flesh and realizing that he's starving.

We're kept at a distance from Eric, though, because 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain isn't willing to give him complete credit for his survival. The movie wants to have it both ways, and it's hollow in both of those ways as a result.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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