“Unsurprisingly, there is no answer, there is no closure, for the distance between them has become a mountain too high for anyone to climb without making several stops, amongst which, this complex, beautiful and yet egotistic narrative exercise is nothing but one of them.”
There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to Christian Einshøj’s The Mountains. A thoughtful meditation on loss, grief, and trauma, for Einshøj lost one of his brothers when he was still a child himself and from that moment on watched how his brothers and parents grew apart. First as a person, a member of this family, and later, as he came of age, as the biographer of this dissolution. In a sense Einshøj, or should I say Einshøj-the-character, is thus a picaresque hero. A non-reliable, at times amoral, rogue-like anti-hero figure who does what has to be done to answer a question that never seems to be answered: “Who am I?”
This is why time in The Mountains flows only backwards. There is no clear perspective of a future, whether alone or in a situation in which they could work their ways towards the mending of their relationships. Einshøj appears to be as distant from his living relatives as he is from his dead brother, so with no path ahead he decides to chronicle his way back through his family’s past. Thus he returns to his parents’ house, he contacts his brothers – something that he admits not doing as much as he should in his life outside the documentary – and above all he watches old family videos. However, as the film progresses answers get more distant because he is not so sure of which question he is asking: “Why did they grow apart?” or “Who am I?” In other words, how much of The Mountains is a film that can stand on its own, and how much only exists in response to the aforementioned family videos. How much of ourselves is shaped by our relationship with others?
Such uncertainty helps the film navigate around a bigger problem: who gets to tell the (hi)story that is being told? Each member of Einshøj’s family has a different perspective on what happened and how it affected them. But mostly, his dead brother who is a key character here never got to live long enough to even understand that he was being constantly filmed by his parents because they knew he was sick and did not know how long he still had to live. His brief life creates a first film; or perhaps the first mountain Einshøj tries to climb. A too personal, almost unbearable home movie of a family trying to borrow some time for one of their own. A film that is revisited by an adult Einshøj now making a film himself (his second mountain) to create a narrative that connects the dots.
Multiple narratives beget multiple Einshøjs. The director who is unable to talk to his own mother without the camera being on, something that in one scene saddens her. The character who dresses up as a superhero alongside his now adult brothers and tries to regain the lost time. The picaro who unashamedly approaches the history of his family as a puzzle he is entitled to single-handedly solve. The son who picked up from his father the habit of recording everything instead of talking about it. And finally, the real person who hopes that by engaging with his own life as a third-person narrative, he will finally understand who answers when he asks the question “Who am I?”
Unsurprisingly, there is no answer, there is no closure, for the distance between them has become a mountain too high for anyone to climb without making several stops, amongst which, this complex, beautiful and yet egotistic narrative exercise is nothing but one of them.