Review: A filmmaker processes the death of his father in the somber, heartfelt ‘Torn’

A man, a woman and three children on a mountain ridge in the documentary "Torn."
Alex Lowe, Jennifer Lowe and sons Max, Sam and Isaac stand for a family photo the year before Alex’s death, from the documentary “Torn.”
(Max Lowe)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

When mountain climbers start families, the nature of risk and responsibility changes and a separate weather system emerges when answering the call to adventure. Documentaries about these fearless achievers tend to sidestep issues of selfishness for the understandable rush that depicting the sport provides, but “Torn,” a somber, heartfelt family inquiry from Max Lowe, deals directly with what thrill-seeking can leave behind, and this doc sub-genre is better for it.

In 1999, Max was 10 when he lost his father, charismatic superstar climber Alex Lowe, to an avalanche in Tibet that also claimed the life of cameraman David Bridges. The eldest of three boys, Max had an awareness of his dad’s mortality that younger siblings Sam and Isaac didn’t, so his sense of loss aligned more with that of his mother, Jenni, albeit still the kind that enables a child to believe his dad might come back someday. At the same time, Alex’s climbing partner and best friend, Conrad Anker, who narrowly escaped the same fate that day, endured a survivor’s remorse so powerful that it changed the course of his life and that of the Lowe family.

“Torn” is structured around carefully revealed developments that aren’t secret and marked by the 2016 discovery of Lowe’s and Bridges’ bodies and the family’s trip to recover them. But the revelation that matters most is that with this film, Max is coming clean that he had been the last in the family to fully accept not just what happened to his dad but also how everyone moved on. It’s what makes “Torn” — a climbing-back movie, not a climbing-up one — satisfyingly emotional without ever feeling sensationalized, as Max’s central interviews with family members bear a marked candidness and intimacy that couldn’t have been easy on anyone.


It leaves the viewer knowing that “Torn” is doing the valuable work of redefining “hero” in the narrative of Alex Lowe’s life and legacy to include what his passion inspired: the kind of impulsiveness that heals hearts.


Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Playing: Starts Dec. 10, Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica; and Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena