Needing Each Other
"We can never be completely whole in and of ourselves," psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes in his book The Different Drum. "We are inevitably social creatures who desperately need each other, not merely for sustenance, not merely for company, but for any meaning to our lives whatsoever."
Some films draw out our apprehensions and aversions, common feelings which testify to our membership in the human family. Many of these dramas turn out to be tickets to the hands-on and open-hearted virtue of hospitality which requires our availability and attention, our flexibility and our spontaneity.
In The Mountain Between Us, two strangers are thrown together by chance in the Boise, Idaho, airport. Learning that her flight has been cancelled because of an oncoming storm, Alex (Kate Winslet), a seasoned photojournalist who knows how to change plans in the blink of an eye, decides to charter a private plane. She needs to get to Denver for her wedding the next day. When she overhears that Ben (Idris Elba), a neurosurgeon, needs to get out soon for an important surgery, she invites him to join her.
An Inner Attitude
"Ideally, hospitality is the outward expression of an inner attitude, a virtue that erupts from the heart, spilling out towards others. A conscious pursuit of hospitality can lead to sanctity because it invariably involves selflessness and sacrifice," writes Thea Jarvis in Every Day Hospitality.
Hoping to outrun the approaching storm, Alex and Ben board a small plane piloted by Walter (Beau Bridges), whose retriever dog sits up front with him. Midflight Walter has a heart attack and dies. The single engine prop plane crashes in the High Ulintas Wilderness, a harsh and remote place in northern Utah rising 12,000 feet above sea level. Ben wakes up first with only a few scratches and broken ribs. Alex's leg is fractured. The dog is okay.
An Ancient and a New Virtue
"Hospitality is a virtue both ancient and new," writes Thea Jarvis in Every Day Hospitality. "Its element of surprise keeps us open to possibilities and in touch with the world around us. At its heart is a longing to extend to others the gracious welcome we ourselves hope to receive."
Alex recalls for Ben "The Rule of Three": People can survive three days without water, three hours without shelter, and three minutes without air." These two strangers are challenged to come up with a plan for survival and that begins with learning to trust the other, make life-and-death choices jointly, find ways to keep themselves going, and care for the other in the midst of inclement weather and the isolation of the wilderness.
The Mountain Between Us is based on the bestseller by Charles Martin and it is directed by Hany Abu-Assad who has made bold Palestinian films Rana's Wedding, Paradise Now, and Omar. Here he has fashioned a slowly unfolding cinematic work that is at once a thriller, a survival tale, and an affecting love story.
A Mutuality of Love
In his book The Path to Peace, Henri Nouwen reflects on the fulfillment that came to him once he stepped out of the way and gave himself up to meeting the needs of others: "I started to realize that there was a mutuality of love not based on shared knowledge or shared feelings, but on shared humanity."
And that shared humanity, as this fine movie shows, can morph into a love that will not let us go.