| May 3, 2010

180 South tells the story of one epic expedition through re-creating it 30 years hence – the legendary 5,000 mile trek from California to Chilean Patagonia undertaken by Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins in 1968 is retraced by young adventurer Jeff Johnson in 2007. Along the way, the film becomes a meditation on the drastic and worrying changes in the still wild Patagonian landscape they traverse.
Our protagonist and narrator, Jeff Johnson, introduces himself with typical self deprecation – “look in a phone book, there are ten of me” – but the story he enacts is anything but ordinary. Having grown up idolizing Chouinard and Tompkins, Johnson sets out on his own expedition to retrace their footsteps. His modern journey – one involving shipwreck, a beautiful young woman from Easter Island and the most difficult mountain climb of his life – takes on the quality of a pilgrimage as he sets his course for Conservacion Patagonica, a large natural park the elder adventurers have dedicated their lives to carving out of a wilderness swiftly shrinking in the face of modernity.
The subtitle “conquerors of the useless” is a direct quote by Chouinard that is oddly appropriate in its quirky understatement. On the surface, of course, it seems there is little to be gained from young men climbing a mountain. But after all, these adventurers have not “conquered” – indeed, they are the ones who have allowed themselves to be forever changed by the magnitude and majesty of nature. And what they have discovered – the beauty of the natural world and the profundity to be experienced when man enters into it as a supplicant rather than a conqueror – well, especially as humanity seems to skew toward the opposite view, what lesson could be less useless?

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