1.8 Significant Connections

As human beings, we have some kind of drive built into us that makes us want to explore, to conquer the world. It is what makes us different to all the other animal species out there, it is what made us leave Africa as primitive man, it drove us to sail around the world, but it is also part of our biggest flaw… we overestimate our ability, if we didn’t then we would never have had the courage or drive to explore the world. The texts ‘Into Thin Air’ written by Jon Krakauer, ‘Touching The Void’ written by Joe Simpson, ‘Into The Wild’ directed by Sean Penn, and ‘127 hours’ directed by Danny Boyle, all show human being displaying this flaw in our human nature. 

In the book ‘Into Thin Air’ by Jon Krakauer, we see the events leading up to during and after the 1996 disaster on Mount Everest.  This text conveys the idea that we overestimate our abilities.  For example, Lopsang Jangbu, one of the key climbing sherpas on the summit push, decided to short rope one of his clients Sandy Pittman, however, he quickly becomes worn out by hauling her extra wait up the hill. “…As she (Pittman) left Camp Four at the front of Fischer’s group, Lopsang abruptly pulled her aside and girth-hitched and bight of rope to the front of her climbing harness….” “…I looked down to see Lopsang hitched to Pittman by her three-foot safety rope. The Sherpa, huffing and puffing loudly, was hauling the rich New York celebrity up the steep slope like a horse pulling a plow…” “…One of the first people I passed when I started moving again was Scott Fischer’s sirdar, Lopsang Jangbu, kneeling in the snow over a pile of vomit.”  When Lopsang was asked later in a interview why, even though Pittman was fine under his own power he still choose to short rope Pittman he replied with, “because Scott wants all members to go to summit, and I am thinking Sandy will be weakest member, I am thinking she will be slow, so I will take her first.” This tells us that humans will overestimate their own ability and underestimate the ability of others. This is reaffirmed because Lopsangs job for the summit push was to be ahead of the group and set the ropes, but Lopsang overestimates his ability and believes he can accomplish this and short rope Pitman. We also understand that people are willing to take a greater risk if there is the possibility of reward or impressing someone they admire or love, we tell this because Lopsangs reason for short-roping Pittman was not because she was tired but because he wanted to impress Scott Fischer by helping one of his richest clients reach the top. 

The second time that we overestimate our ability is shown when Scott Fischer’s second in command Anatoli Boukreev guides on the mountain without bottled oxygen. “…Boukreev’s (the Russian guide) susceptibility to the cold was doubtless greatly exacerbated by the fact he wasn’t using bottled oxygen…he simply couldn’t stop to wait for slow clients… he raced down ahead of the group – which in fact had been his pattern throughout the entire expedition…’ This quote tells us as the reader that because of Anatoli overestimating his ability to climb without oxygen he was unable to assist his clients. This teaches us that humans will always put themselves before others because, as soon as Anatoli begins to feel the effects of not using oxygen he boosts down back to camp far ahead of his clients rather than helping at all, which he could have done by putting on an oxygen regulator. He didn’t do this because he was one of the highest regard mountain climbers and guides in the world meaning he wouldn’t resort to using oxygen as it would hurt his reputation. This teaches us that humans care more about their appearance rather than the people around them. It also teaches us that humans pride will corrupt their choices.

The third time that overestimating our ability is shown in ‘Into Thin Air’ is when Rob Hall doesn’t stick to his turn around time. “…Hall’s appointed turn-around time was two hours past…” This shows us that Hall expected to be able to turn his clients around even with the effect of high altitude on his brain, however, this does not happen. This teaches us that humans believe themselves capable of things that they are not, it also teaches us that emotions will override our logical brain this is because hall doesn’t turn his clients around because they are close to the summit, he choose not to have to face the disappointment and anger of his clients being turned around so close rather than their safety or even his own life. What this tells us about human nature is that we are very emotional beings and that we greatly desire the approval and satisfaction of other humans and dread anger or disappointment for other human beings and will do anything in our power to avoid it. It also teaches us that greed will cloud our judgment as part of Rob’s choice to keep his clients going was because it would draw in more clients and therefore more money if all members of his party summited.

In ‘Touching The Void’ written by Joe Simpson we follow the extraordinary story of two friends, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, turning to climb the notorious Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes when Joe falls and breaks his leg. ‘Touching The Void’ conveys the idea that we overestimate our ability. For example, Simon and Joe engage the help of a fellow English traveler to guard their camp during their summit attempt. “…To get up past, and up on to the glacier, we would have to negotiate a short, steep, ice cliff some 80 to 100 feet high. ‘I don’t think you should come any further,’ Simon Said. ‘We could get you up there, but not back again’…” This quote confirms that Richard lacks the skills necessary to continue up and then back down the mountain. This means that he is unable to assist Joe or Simon if something goes wrong on their Summit attempt. This teaches the reader that Simon and Joe are overconfident in their climbing ability and too proud to ask an experienced climber to stay at their camp in case of disaster. This was for the most part because in this area of mountaineering history if you wanted to regarded as a notable climber you had to undertake an epic, that was a hard risky dangerous expedition without the support of a team behind you, just you, your partner and the elements. Because Simon and Joe had not yet undertaken an epic they would have felt that getting a more experienced climber to accompany them would have been seen as a sign of weakness. What this teaches us about human nature is that humans seek the approval of others, and will do anything in their power to gain it, even risk losing their lives. This is Similar to ‘Into Thin Air’ because like ‘Touching The Void’ pride had a part to play in causing the disasters. In ‘Into Thin Air’ it is the pride of Anatoli Boukreev who refuses to use oxygen that leads to him leaving his clients to fend for themselves, in ‘Touching The Void’ it is the pride of Joe and Simon that stops them asking a more expected mountaineer to accompany them. This teaches us that humans are proud creatures who prefer to accomplish things on our own and refuse to see reason if our pride gets in the way.

The second time that the idea we overestimate our ability is shown in ‘Touching The Void’ is when Joe and Simon are about to engage in the final section of the accent. They spend the night in a snow cave and use up the last of their food and gas on dinner and breakfast. “‘How much gas have we got left?’ I asked. ‘One tin. Is that one empty?’ ” “…eaten the last freeze dry meal…” “..the gas was all used up..” They still continue on the next part of the climb which is the point where they cannot turn back down are committed to the summit push. Rather than turning around because they are out of supplies they are confident they can get up and down the mountain before dark. This teaches the reader that Simon and Joe are overconfident in their climbing ability because later they are forced to stay another night on the mountain. This teaches us that humans get focused on one goal and only focus on that, they will continue towards that goal no matter the cost, especially when they are so close, there is even a word for it in the climbing community ‘Summit Fever’, this is what happened to Simon and Joe it teaches the reader that humans will try to obtain their goals no matter the cost, especially when they are within ‘arms’ reach. This is Similar to ‘Into Thin Air’ because in both cases they climbing groups are very close to the summit when they should be turning around, and in both cases, they don’t, they push through and reach the summit where disaster strikes. In ‘Into Thin Air’ their opportunity to turn around is presented when they reach their turn around time, but they are so close to the summit that they continue anyway because they want people to reach the summit, as it will draw in more money for them, in ‘Touching The Void’ the opportunity to turn around is before their summit push, but they continue because they want to be recognized for completing their epic. What this teaches us about human nature is that we, as humans, will take great risks for reward. 

In ‘Into The Wild’ directed by Sean Penn we follow the story of Christopher McCandless breaking free of his parent’s control and working towards going bush in the wilds of Alaska. ‘Into The Wild’ conveys the idea that we overestimate our ability. For example, Chris (the protagonist) is overconfidence in his ability his abilities to scavenge off the environment. We see this through the following scene: Over the shoulder shot shows a ⅓ full bag of rice, we see the character draw a line at about a ⅙ of the bag full and then writes caution above it, then about 2 weeks later, in movie, we see an extreme close up of the bag and see that the level of the rice is about halfway to empty below the caution level. This scene teaches us that Criss is confident that he will be able to scavenge off the environment for the food he needs, and so he, therefore, use up his food reserves rather than leaving when they run low. What this teaches us about human nature is that we are optimistic by nature meaning that we assume that things will be alright in the end. This is similar to ‘Touching The Void’ because in both texts the protagonists run out of supplies, but continue anyway which eventually leads to them getting into life-threatening situations, which could have been avoided if they turned around when they ran out of supplies.

The second time that we see the idea we overestimate our abilities is when Chris is trying to identify edible plants. In this is shown in the following scene: Zoom shot to extreme close up of characters face up on characters face squinting at plant leaves and berries, he then stares down at a prop plant identification book and murmurs out loud  “What is this? What is this one? This is Viburnum Edule. Viburnum Edule.” We then see a follow to zoom upshot of the actor scurrying away to another shrub. He then this time takes a small glance at one of the leaves of the plant, looks down at his guidebook and says out loud in a confidant loud voice “Hedysarum Alpinum”, and then reads aloud from his book “Hedysarum Alpinum is wild potato root. Wild potato root.” We then see a follow shot of the actor quickly scurrying over to another plant a very quickly identifying it as “Epilobium angustifolium. Fireweed.” In a  loud confident voice, we see an extreme close up of the actor with a large smile on his face as he says it. In the next scene, we see a close up of the actor on the floor rocking back and forward his face scrunched, and clutching his stomach grunting in pain. We then see him reach for his guidebook from an over the shoulder shot, he flicks through the pages, we see to pages that look very similar the camera zooms in from over his shoulder to see that the page says the plant is inedible, then the page is flipped and the other page says edible, We then quickly cut between shots of him examining the plants closer and the reading the book, one of the cuts says “lateral veins” then it cuts to the next shot showing the plant as having lateral veins, then cuts to a section of the book saying “poisonous”. This evidence shows us that Chris has success identify one plant, so then overestimates his abilities to identify them, so rushes the identification process, and because he reexamines them correctly we know that if he had taken his time to identify them the first time he would have realized that they are poisonous. What this teaches us about human nature is that if we have one success we assume that we are good at the task, and therefore we don’t try as hard to do it the next time.  This is similar to ‘Into Thin Air’ because Rob Hall had summited Everest and a large number of other mountains with clients he was overconfident in his ability, so he let things, that he shouldn’t have, slide for example no turnaround time enforced. This is similar to ‘Into The Wild’ because Chris after having one success with his plant identification rushes his next attempts. This teaches us that humans confidence in their abilities will override their skepticism and doubt.

In ‘127 hours’ directed by Danny Boyle we follow the story of the young  Aron Ralston adventuring in Blue John Canyon Southern Utah, when he falls a traps his right arm between the side of the canyon and a bolder. The film ‘127 hours’ conveys the idea that we overestimate our ability. For example, Aron had the opportunity to tell people where he was going but didn’t because he was sure that he wouldn’t need help. In the middle of the movie, Aron begins to lose his sanity and has a fake talk  show with himself during the ‘talk show’ Aron says as the interviewer “is it true that despite, or maybe because, your such f#$%ing hard hero  you didn’t tell anyone where you were going.” Then as himself says “yeah that’s absolutely correct”.  This teaches us that Aron has the mindset that if he was confident he would get into trouble because he was experienced, but if he did, it would be a fun adventure to tell his friends and family about. What this teaches us about human nature is that humans relish a challenge and are almost proud of the fact that they got themselves into and then back out of it again. This is similar to ‘Into the Wild’ as Chris ( in ‘Into The Wild’) didn’t tell anyone exactly where he was going and when he would be back, the same as Aron, and in both cases, if they had told someone their plans then their disasters could have been avoided. This teaches us that if humans feel confident in their ability to complete a task it will override their skepticism, doubt, and fear.

Whatever part of the world you live in, whatever culture, religion, or background you have, you have this same drive our ancestors had, and in tow, the same flaw you overestimate your ability, it may only be small things that you overestimate your ability at, like maybe your ability to cook or it could be a something huge that is slowly pushing you towards your untimely demise. Whatever you overestimate it is essential you realize it, before it leads to a disaster as shown in the texts ‘Into Thin Air’ written by Jon Krakauer, ‘Touching The Void’ written by Joe Simpson, ‘Into The Wild’ directed by Sean Penn, and ‘127 hours’ directed by Danny Boyle. It may be one of our biggest flaws, but it is also part of our biggest strength, the drive to explore and grow both as individuals and as a species, however sometimes it would pay to be wise and ask yourself, ‘Am I 100% sure I want to, and can do this?’.

One Reply to “1.8 Significant Connections”

  1. This is a good essay, Liam. I am pleased that you have been direct in your judgments about what can be learned from each text. One aspect that I would consider, is that your marker has not always read the texts. Some of your discussion is very specific and insightful about what happens in the text, however in other places you generalise slightly so the evidence isn’t so strong. Have a read through and see if being specific to events, people, places, situations would strengthen your arguments overall.
    * You may also wish to do this more in your “connection” lines.

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