Touching the Void


Wow, what can one say about a documentary/mockumentary/dramatisation or whatever this is, that is so inspiring and amazing – and frankly unbelievable – as this? Harrowing, revealing, beautiful and shocking, Touching The Void is certainly an experience.

In the 80s, two twenty-something Brits decide to the conquer the previously unconquered Western face of the Siula Grande mountain in Peru. Other expeditions had failed, from combinations of poor weather, injuries, and the nature of the face itself. Setting off, they manage to do it, scaling the Western face and reaching the summit, only to find that was the easy part. Descent, as this film points out is, is responsible for 80% of accidents in climbing, and it seems their descent was the least well-planned portion of their expedition. The inevitable occurs, Simpson drives his lower leg through his knee into his upper leg, and the impossible journey begins.

Touching The VoidIt’s not something I would ever consider doing. Going on a half-day hike on the Franz-Josef Glacier in New Zealand almost killed me – after I was overtaken by a group of middle-aged Japanese tourists! Simpson and Yates are inspiring though, their stories of the fun they have getting frostbite and snowburns almost enough to make one reconsider.

With a combination of direct interviews – with Yates and Simpson staring straight into the camera while retelling their horrible story – and recreation featuring actors Nicholas Aaron and Brendan Mackey, Macdonald grips the viewer in a tight grasp, never letting them feel relaxed until the final credits. Following the narration with recreated vision, we see the truth of the awful descent almost as if we were there. It is true that at times you forget we aren’t watching Simpson and Yates themselves, the effect of constantly swapping between the real life people and the actors portraying them is so convincing.

Yes, we know the outcome from very early on – how could they be telling their own story had they not survived? – but I was still sucked in, wondering how Simpson could get out of the situation he was in. The decisions faced by each of the men, eloquently teased out by Macdonald, are as horrendous as they are amazing. To cut the rope holding your best mate and climbing partner, when you have no idea if he’s alive or dead? To drop into a crevasse of unknown depth with only 150ft of rope? To push on, inch by inch, instead of lying down and accepting the death that surely awaits. Were this fiction, it would be unbelievable.

Touching The Void tells an amazing story, but does so with skill and class. Not once did my mind wander… I was entranced. A superb tale and a brilliant film.

Rating: 4.0 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 3rd January 2005
Hoopla Factor: 4.0 stars

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