A Harrowing Adventure, An Epic Romance
With his novel The Mountain Between Us, author Charles Martin fashioned a suspenseful, affecting tale that examines how two strangers with distinctive personalities compromise and adapt to one another under extreme duress. That story—the unfolding tale of how two compelling protagonists make their way across a brutal landscape toward salvation, and ultimately, love—spoke to Oscar-nominated producer Peter Chernin (Hidden Figures) and is now brought to life on the Big Screen by director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, Omar) from a screenplay adaptation by Chris Weitz (About a Boy) and J. Mills Goodloe (The Age of Adaline).
What if your life depended on a stranger?
After an incoming storm forces the cancellation of her flight to New York, talented photojournalist Alex Martin finds herself stuck in Idaho the night before her wedding. Scrambling to make it home in time, she hits upon a longshot idea and charters a plane to Denver in the hopes of catching the red-eye to New York that same night. Another stranded passenger, Ben Bass, a skilled British neurosurgeon due back on the East Coast to perform a critical, life-saving operation, tunes out his own misgivings about the plan and joins her.
As Alex and Ben fly ahead of inclement weather in a small Piper two-seater, their pilot suffers a massive stroke, and the small craft crashes in the deep snows of the Uinta Mountains in northeastern Utah. Trapped in the remote region with little hope of rescue, the two weary travelers embark on a terrifying and transformative pilgrimage across the unforgiving reaches of the vast, rugged terrain, fighting against the elements, animals and time. Under the most extreme circumstances imaginable, they gradually learn to trust one another, and a powerful connection grows between them—one that will reshape the course of their lives.
At its core, the tale offered an endearing exploration of humanity’s optimistic, loving and giving spirit that reminds us to always have hope and live in the present.
The veteran filmmaker optioned Martin’s novel five years ago aiming to translate the unusual love story built for the big screen, making a film in the tradition of such classics as Dr. Zhivago and Out of Africa.
“I was highly attracted to the idea of doing a love story with scale,” Chernin says. “I was just highly impacted by this story of essentially two broken or incomplete people who, through this experience, change their lives and grow into who they are. These are two people in the most extreme situation imaginable. The fact that they fall in love is one of the reasons that allows them to survive this extraordinary ordeal.”
Screenwriter Chris Weitz was born in New York City, the son of actress Susan Kohner and Berlin-born novelist/fashion designer John Weitz (born Hans Werner Weitz). eitz began his film career as a co-writer, along with his brother Paul Weitz, of the 1998 animated film Antz. The brothers co-wrote and directed About a Boy, which earned them an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. More recently, Weitz has written several feature films, including Cinderella for Disney, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for Lucasfilm. His young adult novel trilogy, The Young World, has been published by Little Brown, beginning in 2014.
Screenwriter J.Mills Goodloe was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.His career began at Warner Bros. working for director Richard Donner whose credits include Superman, The Omen, Scrooged and the Lethal Weapon series. Goodloe was Donner’s assistant from 1992 to 1995 on Lethal Weapon 3 and Maverick.
He wrote and directed A Gentleman’s Game , and wrote the screenplays for Pride (with with Terrance Howard and Bernie Mac), The Best Of Me, and Age Of Adaline. Goodloe is currently writing a film set in China during World War II for Lionsgate
By almost any account, Alex Martin and Ben Bass an unlikely pair. Both are exceedingly accomplished and committed to their respective professions, but there, the similarities end.
Alex is bold, fearless and feisty, a photojournalist known for her maverick methods and dogged determination. True to form, she cuts it close traveling back to New York and ends up stuck in Idaho the day before her wedding to long-term boyfriend Mark. When her flight is cancelled due to inclement weather, she is determined to find a solution, partnering with a stranger to charter a flight that will get them both closer to their destination.
Ben Bass is a renowned children’s neurosurgeon on his way to New York to perform a vital, complicated procedure the following morning. He is precise, methodical and disciplined, both in life and career and, though reluctant to board a small plane, he sees no other option. That decision sets in motion a harrowing series of events that will set the stage for Alex and Ben to forge a deep, unique and lasting bond.
Starring as Alex and Ben are two of the most respected actors working today: Academy Award winner Kate Winslet (The Reader) and Golden Globe winner Idris Elba (Luther).
“These are two serious, world-class actors,” Chernin says. “The idea of putting them together in this sort of intense, emotional story made it feel more special. Both of them came to this with a serious level of commitment. They were incredibly excited about playing off each other and deeply committed to making this story something of quality.”
Winslet has a nearly unparalleled resume studded with standout performances stretching back decades—she’s often said that she likes to play women she considers “ballsy,” a description that certainly applies to Alex. “She’s the kind of woman who won’t give up until she’s got her story,” Winslet says. “She’s one of those women who’s been in war zones before, worked around the clock, gone without sleep. She’s brave, extremely brave.”
In Alex, she says she saw the opportunity to portray a strong female protagonist whose mental strength and clarity become vitally important to her survival, a woman who is every bit as well drawn and alive as Ben. “When I first read the script, I was actually attracted to both Alex and Ben,” Winslet says. “I loved the idea that these two characters would sustain an entire film from start to finish. I’ve never read a script like that before. And I also really believe in what the story says—that you can change, as a person, in immeasurable ways, and it’s perfectly possible to experience something in your life and then never really be able to go back to the way your life was, or forward to what you thought your life was going to become. So much changes for these two characters through the experience that they share. I was very captivated by that.”
Likewise, Idris Elba, well known for searing turns on the BBC series Luther and in films such as Beasts of No Nation and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, was drawn to the role of Ben, a man as strong and capable as he is handsome. “The story and the extreme circumstances these two people find themselves in was very appealing to me,” he says. “It felt like something I could dramatically really get my teeth into. Also, I hadn’t done a romantic lead yet, so this is quite a departure.
“This movie examines the concept that there’s no perfect scenario to meet someone you’re going to fall in love with,” Elba adds. “In fact, sometimes the most extreme scenarios become a better place to understand if you can love someone or not because you’re facing them in a circumstance that isn’t comfortable. As an actor, you have to put yourself there as closely as you can to whatever the character is going through and Ben has gone through a lot. His personal life is in turmoil when we meet him and becomes ever more complicated on this mountain.”
To tell this gripping story of romance and survival, Chernin and producer Jenno Topping ultimately turned to acclaimed Palestinian director , the Oscar-nominated filmmaker known for his foreign-language dramas Omar and Paradise Now, both political dramas dealing with themes of occupation and oppression.
“The thing about Hany is that he leads with his heart, and he’s not afraid of all the colors and the emotional scale,” Topping says. “He wants to explore the outer limits of the emotional range that humans are capable of, whether that’s love or fear or danger or sorrow. And he communicates that so effectively. Once we realized that not only would he bring the quality that he brings to all his work, but that he also wanted to reach for a bigger, more muscular palette, we felt totally comfortable.”
“The script was about the good nature of human beings and their spirit to allow them to become better human beings, to survive, to be able to love, to be able to sacrifice.”
After having studied and worked as an airplane engineer in the Netherlands, Hany Abu-Assad began producing films. He worked on documentaries Dar O Dar for Channel 4 and Long Days in Gaza for the BBC, to name a few.
In 1992, Abu-Assad wrote and directed his first short, Paper House. Abu-Assad and Bero Beyer wrote Paradise Now in 1999 and shot the film in Nablus in 2004. It received its World Premiere at the Berlin Film Festival 2005, where it was won the Blue Angel Award for Best European Film, the Berliner Morgenpost Readers’ Prize and the Amnesty International Award for Best Film. In 2006, it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, an Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film, and was nominated for a 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In 2011, Abu-Assad finished working on The Courier, and finished Omar in 2013.
In 2015 Abu-Assad completed his sixth feature film, The Idol, a drama inspired by the incredible journey of the artist Mohammad Assaf, a singer from Gaza who won the Arab Idol show in 2013.
In The Mountain Between Us, Abu-Assad saw the chance to direct an expansive, inherently cinematic story of a man and woman struggling against the elements that also functions as an intimate, moving two-hander. “The script was about the good nature of human beings and their spirit to allow them to become better human beings, to survive, to be able to love, to be able to sacrifice,” Abu-Assad says. “That felt to me like an interesting theme to dig into. This is indeed my biggest movie ever. There are a lot of differences from my small projects, but also a lot of similarities, and the principle is the same. In the end, whether it’s a small or big movie, it’s about storytelling.”
Winslet was familiar with the boundary-pushing director’s earlier films and was eager to collaborate with him. “I had seen Hany’s previous work and loved his storytelling,” she says. “It’s very, very simple and yet deals with extremely complex emotions that are often quite difficult to portray on film. They’re often bound up in conflict and tragedy and yet somehow, he is able to convey those things on film in a gentle way that is captivating and also humorous at times. It’s perfectly possible to find moments of great random humor in extreme situations or moments of great tragedy and sadness. And I really admire the way that he handles that in his filmmaking.”
The story of The Mountain Between Us is set dramatically into motion once the pilot of the plane Alex and Ben have charted suffers a stroke mid-flight, and the craft crashes—respected actor Beau Bridges appears in a brief but memorable term as the doomed man. When Ben first emerges from the wreckage, he takes in the full isolation and desperation of their predicament. Making matters worse, Alex is severely injured—she’s unconscious for nearly two days. Ben uses his medical training to tend to her wounds, and after she finally wakes, he suggests that they settle in and remain calm, that help surely will arrive shortly. It’s Alex who realizes that the pilot never filed a flight plan, meaning if they are to survive, they must take action—and quickly.
“Ben’s character is always erring much more on the side of caution than Alex,” Winslet says. “So, whereas he would have much preferred to stay put in that plane and wait in hopes of a rescue, Alex says, ‘We might just have to get ourselves out of this awful situation and either you’re with me or you’re not.’ Her courage to go out and start trying to make that journey to safety and back to civilization is the thing that actually does drive the story forward.”
To make it out of the mountains alive, Alex and Ben will have to cover miles and miles of punishing terrain. With meager supplies, they set out, accompanied by the pilot’s faithful dog. The going is slow, and along the way, the survivors become increasingly dependent on one another as they face a series of perilous situations. Her mental and his physical wherewithal are both needed to overcome the imminent danger they are in.
“They definitely clash over their strategic maneuvers throughout the story, but those are the things that bring them together,” Winslet says. “They have to work together. They have to get through those differences. And then it does take them to the point where they can’t be without one another.”
They also begin to learn intimate details about each other’s lives—though the expressive Alex is initially more forthcoming than the reserved Ben. She reveals that she’s only recently committed to marrying Mark, played by Dermot Mulroney, while introverted Ben, on the other hand, secretly and sparingly listens to classical music on his cell phone, a reminder of his loving wife who passed away from cancer years before. They selflessly begin to care for one another. No matter the threat, neither is willing to leave the other behind.
“This film is about falling in love.”
“This film is about falling in love,” says producer David Ready. “At the outset of their relationship, it’s very much yin and yang. As they face the same jeopardy and challenges, their characters learn from one another and grow. Alex gets softer, Ben gets louder, braver, and they start to come together in order to survive.”
“This is a total romance,” adds Topping. “It’s such an incredibly beautiful part of the movie actually—when you go through something so extreme with someone, there is nobody else in the world who knows you like as intimately. If somebody loves you after that, after going through that and seeing it all, there will never be another human who you can connect in the same way.”
Much like Alex and Ben, Winslet and Elba approached their roles differently but with the same intense commitment to character. “I’m quite a lot about dialogue and making sure that we’ve got the lines down and that we know what we’re doing,” Winslet says. “Idris would be very much like, ‘Don’t worry about that stuff. It’s all about the energy. It’s all about the atmosphere.’ We had to kind of adapt to each other’s way of working because both ways of working were completely relevant and we needed both of those qualities to be able to get through [the experience of filming]. We did learn a lot from each other.”
“Kate brought a level of deepness and honesty about the emotions that Alex goes through,” Elba adds. “She’s very analytical about the words and the script, and we spent a lot of time breaking it down to the finest detail to make it ring true. When you’ve got two actors playing characters that go through something that is very real—survival, love—it’s important that you really look for the truth in that because the audience can see through it. Kate was very vigilant and very honest. She gave away stuff about herself to play this role. We both did. We had to.”