- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

Mount Everest doesn’t take kindly to strangers. The 29,035-foot peak has claimed more than 200 lives and threatened hundreds more with its capricious storms, avalanches and dearth of oxygen.

Erik Weihenmayer wasn’t dissuaded by these figures. In 2001, he did the seemingly impossible and became the first blind man to reach Everest’s summit. He became an overnight celebrity and landed on the cover of Time magazine.

He also became an inspiration, particularly to Sabriye Tenberken, a blind woman who had founded and was running Braille Without Borders, Tibet’s first school for the blind.

Soon after his stunning accomplishment, she wrote the climber a lengthy e-mail expressing her excitement over the example he had set. Three years later, she found herself accompanying him on an expedition that aimed to take six of her teenaged students up to a 23,000-foot peak next to Everest.

“Blindsight” chronicles that expedition. It’s a riveting film, but not in the way one would expect. Where another director might focus merely on the physical adventure, Lucy Walker and her crew do something more challenging and more enlightening: Through their subjects, they explore the very notion of a summit. Is it just the top of a mountain, or is it the series of experiences one has on the way to the top? Does and should each individual have his or her own concept of the summit and what reaching it means? And where does that concept come from? The East or the West, the heart or the mind?

At the center of the debate are Miss Tenberken and Mr. Weihenmayer, who, as the film shows us, have overcome similar obstacles in their lives and become not just functioning members of society but shining examples of bravery and enterprise.

They are kindred spirits in some ways, yet their approaches to instilling confidence in others are quite different. For Miss Tenberken, this trek is about expanding one’s horizons by meandering through new territory, while for Mr. Weihenmayer it’s about pushing through it.

We become quite invested in the students, about whose lives and struggles we learn a great deal. On one side, we may want them to have some sort of life-changing epiphany up there on the mount — and to succeed so that their triumphs might alter the negative public perceptions of blindness in their native land.

However, we also grow increasingly concerned about the dangers the youngsters face on a trail where many others have perished. Is reaching for the stars worth the destruction of one’s dreams, the potential damage to one’s body?

“Blindsight” fills us with questions and opens our eyes. With sensitivity and skill, it inspires and illuminates, calling into question the way all of us see or experience the world around us and how we handle the adversity it brings.

****

TITLE: “Blindsight”

RATING: PG (for some thematic elements and mild language)

CREDITS: Directed by Lucy Walker.

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

WEB SITE: www.blindsightthemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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