Touching the Void

2008-12-19 11:46

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.

This is an absolutely gripping film that will have the opposite affect that gripping films are supposed to have. You WON'T be sitting on the edge of your seat, because ten minutes into the screening you'll be suffering from vertigo. Instead, you'll be sitting hunched back, consumed with tension as the incredible drama plays out before you.

Anthea 2004/08/28 1:15 PM
Touching the Void A tale of true survival and a person's basic instincts that take over when logic fails. But it's more than that...Joe says in the commentary 'You have to make decisions, even if it is the wrong ones, otherwise you are dead" A life lesson...
Joan 2004/08/29 4:24 PM
Touching the Void Brilliant, gripping words can't really describe this movie it makes one realise how powerful the mind is no matter what the body is going through. There was not one dull moment and having read the book made the movie even more brilliant for me. Yes without a doubt
Shane Hegarty 2004/09/04 5:57 PM
Touching the void Outstanding, well acted without unreasonable drama. Interviews with the main participants in this epic of courage and moral dillema were undertaken tastefully. The sense of real, live challenge in the decision making process gave additional credibility to an already courageous story. Worth every moment.
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