A New Zealand doctor and an experienced climber in her own right, Jan Arnold has worked closely with Everest star Keira Knightley on her performance as the wife of deceased mountain guide Rob Hall. The couple had summited Everest together three years prior, so Arnold understood the risks of the endeavor. She last spoke to him via satellite phone on the eve of his death, when they discussed baby names (she was nine weeks from her due date at the time of the expedition) and he assured her that he was comfortable. This conversation was recorded, and the filmmakers of Everest consulted the tapes of this and other transmissions when constructing the narrative for the film. She was even present at one of the listening sessions, so what does Jan Arnold think of Everest ?
Arnold, along with actor Jason Clarke (who plays Hall in the film); director Baltasar Kormákur; Hall and Arnold's daughter Sarah; a climber who accompanied Hall on the expedition named Guy Cotter; Caroline MacKenzie, the doctor who was at Everest that day; and Helen Wilton, an Everest official, all gathered to go through the recordings, according to Entertainment Weekly. Keira Knightley spoke with Arnold during preparations for her role, according to New Zealand-based outlet Stuff. All that research seems to have paid off, because Arnold has publicly shown her support for the film, telling Radio New Zealand, "I feel really overwhelmingly happy with how they've managed to tell it."
Still, she has expressed some reserve at how the film didn't put much focus on the story of the Sherpa who were indispensable during expeditions. "It was a slight casualty of needing to compress and condense and just tell a few stories well," she told the New Zealand Herald, adding in Stuff that the Sherpa had been important to her husband. "In a way tokenism would be worse."
Arnold attended the opening of the film at the Venice Film Festival along with her daughter and several other members of Hall's family. But in the aftermath of the disaster, she hasn't just been relegated to a historical footnote in her husband's story. Since 1996, the New Zealand-based doctor, who focuses on women's health and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault, has tread her own path. Her daughter with Hall, Sarah (a name they agreed upon during that fated final phone call), was born just two months after the disaster.
An avid climber, Arnold has scaled Everest's peak no fewer than seven times since the storm, Knightley told Stuff. Sarah accompanied her mother to the Everest Base Camp at just 10 years old, and the two also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro when Sarah was 15. Still, the daughter of two climbers is the first to confess that she might not be the mountaineer her parents both were.
Everest eschewed the dominant (primarily Jon Krakauer-developed) narrative of the 1996 climbing expedition disaster, and instead developed something that incorporated a little bit of the stories of many of those involved, both on the mountain and tangentially. Though Arnold noted that the film leaves out the involvement of the Sherpa as well as a few other peripheral figures, she added that these are an inevitable cost of creating a compelling, coherent narrative within the two-hour confines of viewer attention. Knightley's performance, though, seems to do her side of the story justice. Plus, who wouldn't be flattered to see her life brought to screen by Keira Knightley?
Images: Universal Studios (2)