On Friday, Lindy West sent me to the University District to watch a press screening of 180º South, and I happily went because the press release contained the phrases "documents the adventures of surfer and climber Jeff Johnson" and "dangerous ocean crossing" and "Chilean Patagonia." Lindy West, you have my number. Though most movies are a struggle for me to get through (too long! stop it! make them shorter! please! I beg you!), Lindy knows I will see anything with surfers or dangerous ocean crossings or Meryl Streep. (Two out of three!) But now I have to sit here and write my review of 180º South, which I don't feel like doing, because it's so easy to describe a bad movie and feel all smug about it, but it's also a crummy feeling, because it's just some low-budget documentary and it's not going to go anywhere in its movie-life anyway, and who am I? Have I ever sailed and then surfed and then climbed an ice-covered mountain in an area of the southern hemisphere that very few humans have ever visited? I have not.
That said, there's interesting material here that the movie basically rushes through in its quest to deliver some pre-digested ideas about the environment and conservation and the virtues of adventure. Surfer and climber Jeff Johnson is a not-well-known guy from California who is enthralled by the story of a very well-known guy, Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, the outdoor apparel company. Chouinard is a legend among rockclimbers—participated in some famous climbs in Yosemite and the Canadian Rockies in the 1960s, and with his blacksmithing know-how (and since he had no money) he made his own climbing tools and gear, which is how he started his business. The thrust of the movie, though, is the story of Johnson having unearthed some footage of an adventure that Chouinard and Doug Tomkins (a friend of Chouinard's from back in the day) took in 1968, involving mountain climbing and surfing to Chilean Patagonia, and Johnson deciding to recreate that trip. Johnson goes to Mexico to be a crew-member on a ship headed toward Patagonia, and at some point they lose their mast and have to get it repaired (cf., "dangerous ocean crossing"). Then Johnson meets a woman who lives out in nature and is also a surfer and presumably he spends a bunch of time banging her (unaddressed by this movie). She joins his adventure. Also, it turns out that Johnson is friends with Chouinard and Tomkins, and Chouinard and Tomkins have spent their lives working to buy up land in Chilean Patagonia, and have already conserved an amount of land bigger than Yosemite, and later on in the movie they all go on a climb together.
Johnson's "adventure" is the "story" that is supposed to make the story of Chouinard and what he has done in Chilean Patagonia come alive, but the adventure really just consists of some breathtaking images of nature and a whole lot of breathtakingly shopworn attempts at meaning. "These people have shown me that if you love a place, you have a duty to protect it. And to love a place, you have to know it first," someone says, as if it's never occurred to you that you can't very deeply love a place you've never been. Also, seeing a place mined of natural resources makes you think about consumerism ("I'm thinking of my own use of resources"). Also, nature is fragile "and we can no longer take it for granted." Also, plopping a factory down in the middle of a bunch of wildlife is bad for wildlife. Also, the joy is in the journey. Also, sometimes in life you have to stop, take a 180-degree turn, and walk in the opposite direction (there is quite a long conversation about this).
In closing, two nice things: I enjoyed the music the filmmakers chose even if I didn't understand its relevance to Chilean Patagonia (lots of Modest Mouse, some M. Ward, some Andrew Bird), and much of the scenery is gorgeous: surfers slicing through high green waves, a rock covered in penguins on a beach in Chile, silhouetted climbers against a silhouetted ridged, hella dolphins.