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“On the Edge” – The highs and low of a life in thrill seeking (Lighthouse International Film Festival ’22 Review)

Image courtesy of the Lighthouse International Film Festival

I am terrified of heights.

On the Edge, written and directed by Rina Papish, is a tragic documentary about the life and ultimate death of Avner Zehori, a champion skydiver and base jumper who, after an accident, was paralyzed from from the abdomen down. As the story unfolded, and the unfortunate conclusion became more and more inevitable, I expected to finish the film feeling sad. What caught me off guard, however, was just how universal the themes Papish highlights and how relatable Avner’s struggles are. 

“You weren’t worried about me?”

“Look, I worry about you when you ride your bike, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”

-conversation between Avner and his father

When introduced to Avner, the first thing that becomes apparent is that he is a complete enigma. While at heart he is a thrill-seeking daredevil, symbolized by his absolute need to push every limit imaginable, he is also a hyper-rationalist. This juxtaposition is the heart of many of Avner’s post-injury struggles. A life without one’s biggest passion would feel hollow to most people, but to someone like Avner, the pain of losing his mobility was compounded by the mental toll of losing his (perceived) utility to the world. 

Each of Avner’s relationships is defined and impacted by this feeling of helplessness. Papish introduces us to both of his parents and sister, all of whom care deeply for him. His father is passive, expressing gratitude that the accident did not take his life and actually brought Avner home. His sister and (especially) mother are more apprehensive, with his mother expressing her worry that the worsening of his physical state would be met with mental deterioration. 

The danger in over-rationalizing, or being too analytical, is it makes it very easy to miss the forest for the trees. When Papish introduces us to Adva, a woman Avner meets on the internet, it appears Avner is ready to turn a corner. But Avner is so focused on what he can’t do that it never occurs to him what he has to offer her. Despite a seemingly happy relationship with a woman who accepts him for who he is, Avner ends it. He’s incapable of realizing the good around him.

On the Edge is as in depth a documentary as you’ll see. The entire narrative is told by Avner himself, as Papish and her camera crew follow him around, with occasional videos of pre-injury Avner’s adventures mixed in. At one point Avner tells the camera crew that a person whose days are full sleep soundly, due to a combination of contentment and exhaustion, while, on the other hand, a person living an empty life struggles to sleep, grappling with thoughts of everything they are not doing.

Avner’s story is a tragedy because, while it seemed as though his limitations were physical, his biggest barriers were self-imposed. He defined himself by one skill and when it was taken away, so was his will to live. In his mind, he may as well have died the day of his accident. I would never presume to understand the pain Avner struggled with day in and day out, nor do I mean to diminish it, but I do believe his dilemma was more common than he believed. Many of us define our lives by what we do or how successful we are, forgetting that who we surround ourselves with is just as important. We miss the forest for the trees. 

So yes, I remain terrified of heights. But after watching On the Edge, I fear something far more; waking up one day and realizing I never truly lived.

On the Edge will play at the Lighthouse International Film Festival on Saturday June 4. Tickets are available here.