Julia is a widow who lost her adventure-loving spouse quite suddenly, sending her into a deep grief. But after some time, she decides it’s time for a fresh start abroad with her young daughter.
Part of moving on is saying goodbye to her former life: she decides to climb her husband’s favorite mountain for the first and only time of her life. Guided by an old climbing friend of her husband’s, she faces the daunting task — as well as the heaviness of her own grief and sadness.
Writer-director Lynne Davison’s quietly powerful drama focuses on the deep stuff of life, capturing a powerful personal ritual of honoring memories and making difficult transitions into new stages of life.
Intimate naturalistic camerawork captures the raw primitive beauty of the Northern Irish mountainside and a melancholy sense of elegy in the washed-out, grey weather. But the film is focused on Julia’s emotional journey, and the often unspoken heaviness of memory, grief and sadness she carries with her.
With its emphasis on the internal tides of thought and feeling, the film rests on excellent writing and performances for its impact. Actress Joanne Crawford gives a beautiful subtle performance that captures the weightiness of Julia’s grief and loss, which colors the slow, hesitant way she speaks and flickers of uncertainty and sadness in her eyes, especially as she speaks of her husband.
Actor Ian Beattie — best known to audiences as the malevolent Ser Meryn Trant in Game of Thrones — plays off her well as the guide, both kindly acknowledging her loss with emotional generosity and compassion. As he guides her along, he unexpectedly offers her a piece of advice that allows Julia to confront the pain of her memories — and gives her a sense of peace before she starts her climb.
We don’t see Julia actually ascend her mountain in “The Climb,” mostly because her emotional arc in the film has been completed right before she begins. That last moment is a quiet reverie, a grace note of the love and tenderness that she lost and still longs for. She allows herself to soak in that memory one last time — and then lets go of with gratitude and grace, free to start her next stage in life. It’s a perfect goodbye, as well as a poetic conclusion for a poetic short — one rich with insight and wisdom on how we can let go of our grief while still honoring the memories of the people we love.