Touching the Void

Montreal can be pretty damn cold, but freezing for 15 minutes while you walk to work or to the movie house is no big deal compared to what Joe Simpson and Simon Yates went through in 1985. Then ambitious young climbers, they set off to reach the summit of Siula Grande, an isolated peak in the Peruvian Andes. No one had accomplished this before, and no one has since. Overcoming this challenge has made Simpson and Yates legendary among mountaineers, but at what price!

Scaling almost vertically across walls of ice, the two have to face exhaustion, dehydration, chilling winds, snowstorms and trying to breathe in high-altitude, and that’s the fun part! It’s during the descent that things become truly problematic. Joe takes a bad fall and shatters his leg and, while Simon attempts to lower him down, Joe goes over an unseen cliff, hanging at the end of the rope. Simon meets an appalling dilemma: should he let himself be pulled off by his friend’s weight and fall with him to their death, or should he cut the rope between them to save himself?

“Touching the Void” is a breathtaking film that blurs the line between documentary and drama. Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald alternates between a harrowing recreation of the climb (with actors Brendan Mackey and Nicolas Aaron as Joe and Simon) and talking-head segments in which Simpson and Yates give us insights into the feelings and thoughts they experienced at the time.

If there are still moviegoers that believe non-fiction pictures are dull, watching this is bound to convince them otherwise. “Touching the Void” can be as riveting and intense as any big-ass Hollywood action flick. It’s stunningly shot, with many scenes that must have been almost as dangerous for the cast and crew as it was for the mountaineers.

This is a very inspirational story of survival and human endurance. Time and time again the protagonists end up in impossible situations where they should just lie down and wait for death, but a stubborn will to live pushes them through the pain, desperation and, in one hilarious sequence, being overtaken by delirium and having Boney M’s Brown Girl in the Ring stuck in one’s head!

Says the filmmaker:
“I think that because we all lead such comfortable, cosy warm lives, that to hear stories of people who have really tested themselves and taken things to the edge is sort of fulfilling a psychological need. It’s a fantastic story – you just couldn’t make it up.”

Indeed. “Touching the Void” is the first great film of 2004, don’t miss it.