Film Review: Torn

torn, climbing film, documentary

The story you've always wanted to hear.

In October of 1999, renowned climber Alex Lowe was killed by an avalanche on Shishapangma, high in the Tibetan Himalaya. This fact you may already know. But behind that tragic moment is a story extending temporally in either direction, a story that’s been veiled in remorse and grievance. That is, until now.

Over the past several years, Max Lowe—Alex’s eldest of three sons—has taken on a project documenting his family’s narrative, before and after Alex’s passing. This fall, Max presents us with Torn, a 90-minute documentary delving into Alex’s motives and legacy. Alex was known as one of the best alpinists to ever walk the Earth, but behind his achievements and accolades was a man split between an inextinguishable passion for high mountains and an unequivocal love for his family. In Torn, we see footage from Alex’s novel expeditions across the globe, contrasted with clips of his family outings in and around Bozeman. We watch him celebrating Christmas in a dome tent in Antarctica—about as far away from home as he could possibly be—then making turns at Bridger with Max and brothers Sam and Isaac. “It’s definitely taxing,” Alex admits in this scene. “We make a lot of compromises.”

Woven throughout this story is the presence of Conrad Anker, Alex’s main climbing partner and best friend. Unlike Alex, Conrad did not have a wife and kids to balance his climbing career with. But Conrad took it upon himself to look after Alex's family. And when we see the sincerity of Conrad’s love for Alex’s widow, Jenni, and his willingness to provide support as a father to Max, Sam, and Isaac, there’s no doubt that it was the right thing to do. “It was pretty comforting to have him there, feeling like you have two parents again,” says Sam.

Sixteen years after Alex’s death, his body was found by another climber on the glacier beneath Shishapangma. Jenni, Conrad, Max, Sam, and Isaac all traveled to Tibet for a ceremonious recovery. “I had kind of hated Tibet,” Jenni confesses. “But to see it up close, I could see why Alex loved it up there.” In Alex’s pocket was his still-intact camera from the trip. Upon returning to Bozeman, the family plugs an SD card into their computer. Better have a Kleenex nearby for this part.

Although Bozeman’s premiere of Torn on November 29 is sold out, Bozeman Film Society is working to get some additional showings scheduled at the Regal Theater in the Gallatin Valley Mall. Stay tuned for updates—this is a must-see for anyone who calls Bozeman home, just as Alex Lowe did for so many years.