A film about a plane crash is probably not the best thing to watch when you’re on a plane, but I was too driven by curiosity to see what the chemistry would be like between Kate Winslet and Idris Elba in The Mountain Between Us (Hany Abu-Assad, 2017). Admittedly, I didn’t think it would work and I avoided the movie for months. Boy, was I wrong.
What did I like about The Mountain Between Us?
It’s difficult to shake off the English rose image of Kate Winslet, even when she adopts an American accent. She’s too quintessentially “British”. Similarly, with Idris Elba, you can’t mistake that south London accent, even when he’s playing a neurosurgeon attending a medical conference. I thought that these socio-cultural differences would make them totally unbelievable in any romantic capacity, and that the chemistry would come across forced. However, the distinctions between the actors only served to reinforce the unlikely bond between the two characters. It was a collision of worlds both on and off the screen, which was absolutely thrilling to watch.
I liked that the movie wasn’t just a disaster movie, it gave you the before and after too. Upon making it back to civilisation in their respective countries, the narrative then jumped ahead several months to show Alex (Kate Winslet) and Ben (Idris Elba) reunited again. This time they’re in a modern restaurant, with a picture of a blossoming tree in the background between them, while they discuss going their separate ways. It almost plunged the narrative from equilibrium back into disequilibrium, and made me think it would have been better if they’d died on the mountain together, rather than spend their lives apart from one another.
Despite themes of survival and unspoken love, there were still instances of light humour, which was a welcomed distraction from the mountainous weight of the movie. For example, Ben responding to Alex with “I never thought I’d hear you say that again”, after she asks him to help her pee. Or, at the end of the movie, when Kate finds and unwraps a boiled sweet from her rucksack, reminding her of Ben, only to grimace at the taste and spit it out within seconds. It kept the characters human and relatable.
What didn’t I like about The Mountain Between Us?
I thought the screenplay could have been stronger. The dialogue seemed a little dry and dense during some of the scenes of intimacy and seclusion. In fact, the scenes where the characters didn’t speak were the strongest, such as when Alex takes Ben’s photo while his asleep, inviting us to see the object of her affection, from her perspective. Or, the close-up of Ben’s face as he cries, after leaving Alex to be with her fiancé in the hospital. These were moments when actions definitely spoke louder than words, and it was more interesting to see what the characters were doing than saying.
The heart and brain subtext was a little contrived. It’s made painstakingly clear that Alex, the creative photographer, thinks with her heart; and Ben, the brain surgeon, thinks with his brain. We see her go against doctor’s orders and walk on her broken leg to reach safety, and we see Ben wanting to follow procedure and stay in one place until the rescue team arrive. The metaphor is virtually spelled out when Alex plays the recording of Ben’s ex-wife saying that he can’t control everything. One would hope it’s treated with a little more tact in the novel, but I’ve yet to read it.
Watch the trailer and learn more about Matthew Hepburn.