To the Extreme is a short but extensive new documentary exploring the world of extreme sports and the thrill-seeking athletes who routinely take part in such dangerous activities. Shot in starkly beautiful black and white, this documentary gives viewers a unique look at the motivations behind the individuals who put their lives at risk to participate in physically demanding and dangerous sports such as base jumping, skydiving, and ultra-marathons.
The film begins with this quote from Karen Armstrong’s book Fields of Blood: “We are meaning-seeking creatures and, unlike other animals, fall very easily into despair if we fail to make sense of our lives.” This sets the stage for a multi-faceted look at extreme sports and the extraordinary athletes who take part in them. Filmmaker Chris Cutri delves into the reasons why such death-defying recreational activities continue to attract new participants and why such athletes are so willing to test their physical, mental, and emotional limits.
The documentary not only includes interviews with a number of elite extreme athletes including Marshall Miller, Cory Reese, and Matt Park but it also explores various aspects of the extreme sports craze. These include the socio-economic factors behind it, the impact that our modern digital culture has had on fuelling the popularity of such death defying activities, as well as the connection between spirituality and extreme sports, and the very real and serious dangers inherent in such activities.
For a large portion of To the Extreme, viewers are given an immersive point of view perspective into sports like wing suit base jumping, skydiving, and running a 100+ mile ultra-marathon. Filmmaker Cutri also uses the film to explore the notion that with the advent of more and more technological advances at play in our daily lives, our modern society has come to place significantly less emphasis on the purely physical abilities of the human body. Those individuals in search of ways in which to test or even transcend their physical limits are attracted to extreme sports not merely because they yearn to experience something outside of the boredom of daily existence, but also on a deeper level because these sports provide athletes with a way to look inside themselves and explore what it truly means to be human.
The film also explores the connection social and economic factors play in terms of participation in extreme sports. To the Extreme makes the case that the majority of athletes competing in extreme sports are liberal, white, upper/middle class men. This is in large part due to the high costs associated with activities such as skydiving and the time demands of training for and running in gruelling multi day events, such as the 100 mile cross country Utah ultra-marathon featured in the documentary.
To the Extreme also presents viewers with a reminder of the all-too-real risks involved in taking part in extreme sports. This is made crystal clear by the film’s inclusion of the reports of the 2015 accidental base jumping deaths of Dean Potter and Graham Hunt, two renowned and seasoned athletes. The inclusion of this sobering material emphasizes the staggering physical risks involved in taking part in these highly dangerous activities.
To the Extreme is well worth a look, especially if your bucket list includes participating in the heart pounding excitement of diving off a cliff or summoning the physical endurance needed to run an ultra-marathon. The documentary’s sharply sculpted black and white photography is not only visually exquisite but it also serves as a way to strip away the clutter from the surrounding landscape and reduce it down to its natural essence. In this way, the film aptly illustrates the adrenaline-pumping experience involved in testing the limits of the human body.
To The Extreme is now available on DVD.
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