It’s not that often I review a documentary but after watching Finding Michael on Disney+ I just had to share it with you. This documentary is so full of heart and emotion but doesn’t get to heavy that you feel like the titanic sinking it’s hard to explain. Did it make me cry? Yes, but I wasn’t overcome with the dark sadness it was more a cry at how beautiful it was. Spoilers ahead. I am using poster images I have found through google I do not own any rights and am using the image purely for review purposes (Fair use under the copyright act sections 29 and 30 under use for a review).
Before we jump into the review, I am going to give a little background to what happened to Michael Mathews. In 1999, Michael became the youngest ever Brit to summit Mount Everest, but just three hours after he reached the peak, the 22-year-old went missing and was never seen again. The story that Spencer tells during the documentary is heart breaking one minute Michael was behind his guide the next he was gone. In 2017, the Matthews family received a photograph of a body on Everest that looked as if it might be wearing the same colour summit suit that Michael was wearing when he went missing. Spencer thought that there might be a chance that they would be able to find his brother’s body and discussed it with his family and wife, they all agreed they should try to bring Michael home and more than 20 years on from the tragic events from 13 May 1999, the quest to find Michael begins.
There are two strong themes throughout this documentary that emotionally destroyed me in two different ways. The first is how the documentary brings Michael to life by piecing together his life and who he was. Through photographs and video, including one haunting piece of film from his last night alive. Watching Spencer visit the same villages, bathe in the same natural pools and be blessed in the same temples is incredibly heart-breaking. We also see Michael come alive through his friends and family members remembering him, and I know this documentary is called finding Michael and that we are looking for a body.
But dear Reader there are two clips of Dave Rodney who was Michael’s friend and tent buddy where he praises Michael for helping him power through the climb before their final stretch to the summit. Dave then recounts the last time they saw each other when their paths crossed near the summit Dave had reached the top and was on his decent. While Michael was on way to the top at the Hillary step a simple thumbs up and wave. The next piece of film is of that Dave in tears at camp as he tells the camera that Michael didn’t make it.
Another theme this throughout this documentary is grief. We as the watcher see the grief felt by those left behind when a person dies so young. We see grief through the lenses of family, friends and others who have lost people on Everest. One thing that I have seen mentioned in other reviews or the first preview reviews is the choice Spencer makes.
This is just my interpretation of what happened as I am not Spencer, but it seems Spencer makes peace during the first intense search that he might not find Michael. Instead, he reaches out to the family of Wong Dorchi Sherpa who died near camp four in May 2021 and decides that if they can’t find Michael he would bring peace to another family. When Spencer can’t find Michael after the second intense search, he gets the team to recover the body of Wong Dorchi Sherpa and returns him to his family.
Finding Michael is at times raw in its delivery from the search and rescue team inspecting bodies to seeing the family Wong Dorchi Sherpa get their closure. You can’t help feeling every moment of hope and every disappointment. No matter how pretty I think Everest is I am more than happy to view her from a distance. The harsh reality is despite her undeniable magnificence Everest is a cemetery.
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