As The Mountain Between Us releases this week from 20th Century Fox, moviegoers will experience a thrilling drama between two strangers who survived a plane crash and now must rely on each other to survive in the wilderness. Idiris Elba and Kate Winslet star in the film, based on a novel by Charles Martin, which highlights the incredible difficulties that must be overcome and a strong determination to survive.
Martin, a bestselling author of 12 other books, including Where The River Ends and the upcoming spring release, Send Down The Rain, spoke to Reel Faith Editor DeWayne Hamby about the inspiration for the story and his strong belief in Jesus Christ.
Can you describe the inspiration for this story and the journey to the screen?
Charles Martin: I’ve written 13 books. The Mountain Between Us is my seventh. In 2008, my sixth novel released called Where the River Ends and it hit the New York Times list. It’s my first and only book to thus far do that. But that put me on a nationwide book tour, about 26 cities. They took us to Italy on book tour. That process took about 3-4 months, which was really cool, a lot of travel. (My wife) Christy of course loved getting to go to Italy on book tour. While this is going on, I’m trying to meet a deadline and finish a manuscript. I did it. When we got home, I submitted it to my editor and, a couple of days later, she got back to me and rejected it outright. She didn’t want any part of it. It wasn’t like she said ‘Rewrite part of this.’ She said, ‘I don’t want any of it.’
The problem was that I didn’t have anything else to give her, so I’ve just lost my place in line. So at the soonest, I wouldn’t have another book come out for two years. That’s difficult for a guy who makes a living as a writer. This is the week before Christmas and they’re talking about canceling my contract because the publishing world is in flux at the moment. I said, “Give me through Christmas and let me see if I can think of something else to write.” She said, ‘Okay.’
A week after Christmas, I go on a hiking trip with a buddy of mine. I think Christy was just trying to get me out of the house, if you want to know the truth. We end up going on a hike on the side of a mountain and a bad storm blows in. We had good gear, we had good clothes, but we got wet and cold and the storm was pretty violent. The wind was blowing sideways about 60-70 miles per hour. When we finally got in the tent and got dry clothes, sleeping bag, food, when we were okay, I began daydreaming, as writers do. I began just asking myself, ‘Man, if you were in the middle of nowhere and this is your situation and if I wasn’t three miles from my truck? What if this person I was with was hurt? What if they were immobile? What if they couldn’t get themselves from point A to point B?’ That was going through my mind as I was starting to daydream about what might happen. A week after that, I’m in a plane flying out west for some work stuff and the pilot gets on the intercom and says, ‘For those of you that are Robert Redford fans, if you saw the movie ‘Jeremiah Johnson,’ which happens to be one of my favorite films, ‘it was filmed directly below us in what is called the Uinta Mountains, the largest East-West mountain range in the continental US.’ It’s a huge barren wilderness of a bunch of nothing, but it’s beautiful. I look out the window and for 70 miles in every direction, and there’s no structure, no building, nothing. There’s no man down there. It just a hard and cold plateau. I began thinking, ‘What if I had that experience that I had at Mount Mitchell, what if it happened down there?’ What if I had been in a plane that crashed that put me down there? What if I was married but I have to be in a plane with a woman that wasn’t my wife? What if she was hurt? What if she couldn’t walk? What if nobody knew we were there?’ So that’s where the story pragmatically for me. It came out of a deeper place in my heart.
At the time I wrote this, Christy and I had been married 14 years. We’ve now been married 24 years. After about 14 years of marriage, I’m looking in the mirror, taking inventory. And I’m asking myself how am I doing. When I tell Christy I love her, I mean it and I tell her all the time, but do I show her? I’m not just talking about doing dishes after dinner. Do I really show her and what does it look like for a man to really show his wife that he loves her? The Mountain Between Us came out of one experience of having that book rejected and then me trying to find a way to write one. You also have to marry that with some hard emotional questions, which was an inventory I was taking of myself. How am I doing and does my wife really know that I love her?
This movie looks like it has inspiration and emotion and something that would spotlight survival and strength of the human spirit. Your background is that you’re a Christian, so how did that influence this story and how did you see it play out as you were writing it?
I grew up in a house where Jesus was and is Lord. I’ve never known Him as anything other than Lord. The even the word ‘Lord’ requires that we surrender to Him. It’s a yielding of my will to His. So I do. I love Him. I want to walk with Him. I want to play my drum for the King. I want to write stories that honor Him, reflect Him, that show His character and His nature. I pray that He’s pleased with them, I pray that He reads them. Christy says it sounds funny when I say this, but when I get through judgment, and we are all going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ, I pray that when I do get through it, if I do, that the Lord takes me by the hand and walks me into His library, like His personal library. I pray that I find my books on His desk with worn, tattered and yellowed pages. For a long time, I used to write wishing I could impress some large audience and my books are in a lot of countries now and maybe my readership is growing and I’m grateful for that and don’t take that the wrong way. I love it when people read my stories. But at the end of the day, I’m really only writing an audience of one and I pray that He loves my stories.
With regard to the The Mountain Between Us, I didn’t try to write a theological treatise. I’ve never tried to write a book with an agenda to knock you over the head and make you come to a conversion decision. That hasn’t been the way that I make art. C.S. Lewis said one of the things he hoped for his stories is that they would become road signs to Jerusalem. He felt like if he could point people there, little by little, and get them on the road to Zion, that when they got there, the Lord would reveal Himself. And it’s the same prayer I have for my stories. I pray that through my stories, somehow the nature and character of Jesus would be revealed. He said, ‘If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself.’ Somehow I pray that my stories, however the characters present themselves, their abilities, their honesty, their truthfulness, their faithfulness, whatever it might be, I pray that it reflects His nature and His character so people are left hungry and wanting. Then the Lord will find them in that place. It’s not my jump to thump them over the head.
With regard to the Fox people, selling an intellectual property is like selling a house. Once you’re done, they can bulldoze it. I’ve no influence, no input, no say so in the movie. I’m not bitter or angry about it. That’s just the way Hollywood works. I’m not Cussler or Clancey or Grisham. I don’t have the leverage that those guys have. I’ve gotten to know the Fox people. I’ve really gotten to where I like them and I call them friends. I’m grateful for them. I really am. I think they’ve made the best movie they know how to make with the story that they have. It’s also very difficult to take 10-12 hours of reading, 300-page novel, and put that in 90 minutes on the screen. You’re dealing with two different mediums. I was really comfortable with that from the beginning. There are some neat moments in the beginning of the movie, it’s been neat to see how they transpose my ideas onto the screen. But then you also have to give the director the freedom to make his own movie and I think Hany Abu-Assaddid that. Hany is the director. He’s a great big old guy, he’s a Palestinian and he’s a great big hugger. I just love being around him. He’s a tender-hearted soul and I’ve really enjoyed being with he and his wife, Amira. I think he made a beautifully cinematic experience. Now the story is different. I knew that. But it’s his vision and I’m pulling for him. I hope his movie does well. If people want to know what I think, they can go read my book.
What’s your next project?
I’ve just finished my 13th novel, it’s called Send Down the Rain. It comes out next May. Hands down the most difficult book I’ve ever tried to write. On two or three occasions, I thought I was done. A couple of days, I would show up at my office and before I ever sat down at my desk, I would literally just hit my knees because I was stuck. I would say, ‘Lord, if you don’t show up, I need you Holy Spirit to show up right now. If you don’t, this is done. I need You. I can’t finish this without You.’ I’ve never said, of the 13 books I’ve written, that any one is my best book, but I’ll say this about Send Down the Rain, I’ve never written one that’s any better.