Touching the Void is the true story of two British climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who in 1985 decided to climb the previously unassailable west face of the 21000 feet Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. I don't know what Siula Grande means, but I'd guess it's something like Massive Killer Ice Mountain. They get to the top pretty easily, but on the way down a storm comes up and Simpson falls, shattering his leg.
Yates tries to get Simpson down the mountain, inching him along while they're tied together, but disaster strikes (again - there's a lot of disaster in this film) when Simpson slips and ends up dangling over a black chasm. Yates has no idea what's happened. All he knows is that he's stuck, slowly dying of cold, and that Simpson's weight is still at the end of the long rope. He can't see anything, he can't hear anything except the storm.
This is the moral conundrum of the story. What would you do? Hang on until you die, or cut the rope? Yates ends up cutting the rope, sending Simpson to certain death. Except, of course, it isn't certain death. I'm not giving the ending away here. Touching the Void is a documentary, and features interviews with both climbers, so even imbeciles raised on the filmic conventions of American Pie movies should be able to figure out that both climbers survive.
Simpson falls into a deep ice cave, but manages to make his way out and after an epic struggle - remember, his leg is mangled, it's storming, he's hypothermic and dehydrated - manages to crawl his way down the mountain.
It's an incredible story, and director Kevin MacDonald has cleverly interwoven re-enactments by actors with interviews with Yates and Simpson, to create a film that functions as part action movie, part morality tale, and part documentary.
Great adventure stories are always about more than simple heroism. Sure, Touching the Void is about the incredible courage of both men, about surviving impossible situations and utterly destructive setbacks. And sure, it's about implacable and relentless nature, a force that has nothing to do with narrative or humanity, that just exists.
But what kicks Touching the Void up a notch, turning it from simple adventure documentary into something more complex, is the choices that both men had to make. Yates abandoned his friend to die. More than that, he actively killed him by cutting the rope. The fact that Simpson survives, and that both men then have to confront the fact of the betrayal, makes for riveting viewing. Simpson claims to have forgiven Yates, but as you watch them give testimony, sometimes in excruciating close up, you can't help noticing that they never appear on screen at the same time.
You don't have to be a climber to appreciate Touching the Void. There's something stripped down and essential about the choices that both men have to make, a feeling of brutal simplicity that anyone can understand. It's about basic survival, and about trying to save your humanity as well as your life, sometimes at an unaffordable cost.
The film is so to say the ultimate package with a good director, good leading actor, and an all-star cast. Read More »
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If ever there was a reason why no government should ever have the death penalty, Shepherds and Butchers is why – a masterpiece of raw emotional trauma. Read More »
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