The most jarring, visceral, scene in a movie I have ever seen, is the first fifteen minutes of the film “Vertical Limit”.
A father, son, and daughter are climbing guides leading two customers up one of the tall spires in Monument Valley. The clients are in front, the father next followed by the son then the daughter. The daughter is engrossed in setting the anchors that good climbing protocol require for such a string of climbers; the father is closely watching the two unruly, not very serious, climbers above him; the son is photographing the climb and the scenery around,obviously as part of the climbing experience that is the family living.
The scene is breathtaking in its wild beauty. The climbers strung like a thread up the rugged face of this ancient citadel rock; the achingly blue sky, a hawk drifts lazily by on the clear desert air. The father son and daughter are chatting, bantering back and forth as they tend to the various tasks at hand . A picture of a strong working family, living life in the full.
A scream from above shatters the calm air and snaps all eyes to the clients high above them. The lead climber is off the rock ,arms and legs flailing as he hurtles past the second man, ripping him off the wall; without pause they snatch the father then the son ,and lastly the daughter is pulled loose just as she is setting the third critical anchor in a crack of the rock.The clients rope breaks at the fathers belt and they plummet out of sight to the desert floor far below. The critical third anchor is ripped from the crack and the two remaining ones begin to slip. the father is hanging from the son, the son from his sister, and the girl is swinging wide of the wall, hanging on the two remaining anchors that are inexorably slipping towards the face of the crack. The daughter is hanging too far out to reach the rock face. She holds an anchor in the tips of her fingers and stretches untill her joints creak but cannot reach the rock to insert the anchor. The remaining ones slowly, surely slip bit by bit.
The father, hanging at the end of the rope , speaks;
“Son, do you have your knife, I’ve dropped mine?”
” Look at your sister, the anchors are sliding, they won’t hold three of us, you must cut the rope or we all will die”
The sister screams her protest, the son, in the middle holds his knife to the rope, his hand shaking, his face a mask of agony.
The father speaks;
“Cut the rope or you will kill your sister”.
“Cut the rope”.