Within ‘Torn’, a brutally intimate documentary about the life and tragic death of mountaineer Alex Lowe, directed by his son Max, little attention is paid to the world-famous climber’s many impressive feats to the top, or even the psychology behind which caused him to push his body and stamina to the limit. Instead, the film focuses on those who knew Lowe best — or, in the case of his three children, those who barely got to know him.
It’s a sharp pitch shift away from “Free Solo,” one of National Geographic’s earlier (and critically acclaimed) documentaries about a climber, which built a character study around Alex Honnold’s exhilarating free solo ascent of El Capitan. Max Lowe, who was only 10 when his father was killed in an avalanche in Tibet, aligns his project more with Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley’s 2013 exploration of her own family history that puts as much emphasis on digging up the truth as the truth itself.
While there are no real secrets to uncover as to Alex Lowe’s motivations for climbing, nor his infectiously exuberant personality in life – which, as can be seen in the many archive tapes Max is given access to, can occasionally cause frustration among the people around him – the film inevitably feels confessional and cathartic. The director’s conversations with his mother, Jennifer; his younger brothers, Sam and Isaac; and his stepfather, Conrad Anker, who was once Alex Lowe’s most trusted mountaineering partner, all find themselves on the border between interview and healing circle, trying to reconcile the real, mortal Alex with the Superman she and the general public have in him. saws. Learning to not only see, but embrace that humanity is the common thread of ‘Torn’, which, through its peaceful ending, has shown how unexpected bonds can develop around people in grief.
Not judged. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theaters.