A climbing legend's son reopens and repairs old wounds in "Torn"

Posted at 12:30 PM, Dec 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-09 20:26:45-05

Alex Lowe appears fearless. Cool. Handsome. He literally conquers mountains. He is carefree and impervious.

And then, half a world away from his young family, he was killed in an avalanche. He was considered by many to be one of the greatest mountain climbers of his generation. He was 40 years old.

"Torn" is about making sense of Lowe's death as well as his memory. Directed by Alex's son, Max, we find sons who know their father only in the stories others tell. A best friend marked by survivor's guilt. A wife who, in her earliest moments, knew she could never keep her partner from the mountains.

And eventually, from those broken bits, we find joy. "Torn" is tender, surprising, well-made, and deeply personal. Max Lowe will be in Colorado on Dec. 12 to show it to audiences at the AMC Westminster Promenade and the Harkins Arvada.

Denver7 spoke with Lowe ahead of the screenings. The conversation was lightly condensed to avoid spoilers.

First question: Do you feel better now than you did before you made this?

I don't know if “better” is really the way I would describe it. It's not better or worse. It's really just a broader understanding of everything. Who knows how this will affect how I make decisions going forward in my life. Most people, I think, make informed decisions by the things that they experience in life, and I'm glad that I was able to have this experience because, whether or not I acknowledged it, or saw it, before, I went down this path of making "Torn" and going into all this process of healing and exploration of the trauma that me and my family had experienced collectively, it still was impacting who I was. But I just didn't have as much control or ability to see it.

This is a very accomplished film. Is this your first documentary?

This is my first feature documentary. I've made quite a few short films over the years, a lot of three-to-five-minute pieces, and then several 20- to 30-minute short films. But this was my first feature. And it was quite a learning process. Not only learning on a very intimate and personal level about my own life, but just the whole rigmarole of learning how to make a feature doc, was something that I had to go through.

I wanted to use this storytelling abilities that I have cultivated over recent years to help me and my family process some of that trauma. But you know, when I first started talking about that experience in Tibet openly and being more vulnerable with people who were outside of our immediate sphere of influence, people that I trusted, it really impressed upon me how much my sharing my vulnerability allowed other people to tap into that for themselves. And that was probably the big hump that I got over, you know, finding purpose and value in it beyond just selfishly because this is family therapy in the form of feature documentary film.

My family probably would have preferred that it did not get made, but I saw that it could be a powerful thing for people beyond our world, people who had no idea who Alex was, and I saw that potential in the very, very beginning. And that was kind of my guiding star through the entire process and came to those moments where I was like, is this worth it? You know, my family is upset and I hope they would all get to that point with me.

Did they? How did your family take it after having seen it put together?

I mean, it was tough for a minute. You know, this is my perspective on our story. And my brothers both have their unique perspective on their place within this story. And my mom definitely has a very strong idea of what our family story should be and Alex's role in it.

When I showed the film to them, for the first time, especially my mom had a lot of things to say. And there was definitely some conflict between me and her. And I think having now been on the road with all of them, sometimes all together, and for many screenings, you know, just me and my mom, or me and a couple of family members, and sharing that experience of being in a theater and people coming out and being there for them to share their experience of trauma — whether that's losing someone they love — or any minor trauma that they might have had … for whatever reason, vulnerability at this level is kind of a superpower in the way that it allows other people to process their own experiences.

Your brothers don't really remember much about Alex. Was there worry on their part or reticence of maybe, hey I don't want to know more about dad if there's bad stuff in there or it diminishes his memory.

Yeah, there was definitely a lot of that worry. You can see it in my family members as they sit down for those interviews. It goes back to that trust. They sat down because they trusted me as their son, as their brother. Even though they didn't know what might come. But it doesn't mean they weren't scared. They were worried about what would come out.

I don't want to give anything away, but there's a really sweet twist in this movie. I think a lot of people might go into this not realizing it has that kind of joy.

Yeah, I mean, that was definitely a concern of my mom's. She was like, our life isn't this sad. I didn't ever see the film as being like a sad soap opera. There's definitely some difficult things that we all move through in life, but my hope is that an audience coming away from observing this — whether you're in theater, with a big group of people experiencing it, or just at home on your TV, you know — at least my takeaway coming away from this film is seeing more value and love and seeing the ability for love to endure incredible stress.

Is it cathartic to go around and show this movie?

It is super cool to talk about it. I continue to learn more and more about the film. The more people that I am able to share it with, that our team is able to share it with, the more perspective that I have on my own life. And that is a huge gift. To be able to share this experience with so many people and get this incredibly broad experience not only on my life, but on how we all process grief and trauma and move through it one way or another has been truly remarkable.