Monday, October 26, 2015


I thoroughly enjoyed, and highly recommend, the recent Imax high-adventure film, Everest, a cinematic dramatization based on the actual events of a 1996 Mount Everest expedition.

I’m being sort of careful here not to give away the film’s climactic events, though this expedition has been extensively documented, most famously in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.

My own fascination with Everest dates back to Sir John Hunt’s documentary film and book, Conquest of Everest, about the 1953 British expedition that put the first climbers on the summit of the world’s highest peak. Those two men, a New Zealand beekeeper named Edmund Hillary (later Sir Edmund) and the Nepalese Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, trailed clouds of glory for the rest of their lives (Hillary died in 2008, Tenzing in  1986).

If this latter-day Everest is similarly a movie about heroes—and I say it is—then the chief hero is Rob Hall, another New Zealander (played by an Australian, Jason Clarke). Hall, a world-class climber, went on to make his reputation and living by guiding amateur mountaineers to the top of Everest for a substantial fee… and bringing them safely down again.

I’m not here to discuss the pros and cons of such commercial summiting; you can read Krakauer for that (though I am somewhat troubled by parents of minor children who put their lives at high risk if not done in the line of duty).

What makes this spectacular “event” film so compelling is watching Hall’s attempt to shepherd his wayward flock to and from the summit of Everest, without losing anyone in the process. It was not simply a matter of professionalism; according to a distinguished fellow climber (David Brashears), Hall “conveyed an absolute sense of care and guidance.”

Whatever Hall’s contractual obligations to his climbing clients, the actual steps he took to keep them safe in the “thin air” death zone of Everest were more than heroic. The unwritten terms of the deal, apparently, were that this high-altitude shepherd was willing to sacrifice his own life to save those he guided.

Remind anyone of a certain Scripture?

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”— John 10:11 (NASB)

So, yes, in that light it’s a Christlike story; and, in fact, it’s hard not to view it in that light. The expanded parable appears in Luke’s Gospel:

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’”—Luke 15:4-6 (NASB)

It’s certainly been an oft-used parable by Hollywood, perhaps second only to The Prodigal Son. (Godfather anyone?) Can you think of any other Good Shepherd books or movies?

A couple come to my mind. The first is easy. The Good Shepherd was actually the title of a 1955 novel by the legendary C. S. Forester (creator of the Horatio Hornblower series and The African Queen).

For just over 300 pages, Forester describes, in masterful detail, the heroic efforts of a U.S. destroyer captain to protect his Atlantic merchant convoy (it’s WWII) from predatory packs of U-boats. I don’t think the poor bastard leaves the bridge or sleeps a wink from first sentence to last.

No, I take that back, because here’s the final sentence: “He could be called happy now, lying spread-eagled and face downward on his bunk, utterly unconscious.”

Kind of like Rob Hall, or Christ Crucified.

Which brings me to Schindler’s List (or Schindler’s Ark as Tom Keneally’s novel is known in England). Keneally’s book and Spielberg’s movie, masterpieces both, cast a blinding light on the Good Shepherd parable. The initially self-serving Oskar Schindler ultimately risks everything to save his Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews) from the Nazi Holocaust, even getting them some of them released from an Auschwitz-bound boxcar on a railroad siding.

The industrialist can’t rescue all six million, alas, but he moved heaven and earth to rescue his precious few—eleven- or twelve-hundred by varying estimates. According to a Talmudic quotation engraved on a ring presented to their savior by the surviving Schindler Jews, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”

Postscript: There were other “Schindlers,” too, most notably Sir Nicholas Winton and Raoul Wallenberg.


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