Touching the Void

Movie Information

Genre: Docudrama
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Joe Simpson, Simon Yates
Rated: NR

This is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.

There’s a reason I don’t climb mountains: They terrify me. Oh, sure, they’re picturesque in the distance — all that majesty and closer to heaven stuff.

Then you get up close and personal with those pretty peaks, and they become downright lethal. The higher up you go, the more you encounter snow and ice and ferocious storms that howl so loudly that you can’t hear yourself scream. Every time you place your hand on a rock, it could be the last thing you ever do, because the truth about going up a mountain is that you’ve ultimately got to come back down. (Eighty percent of all mountain-climbing deaths occur on the descent.) In the flick of an eye, those pristine, white-capped sky-kissing peaks can turn into towering, malignant forces full of craggy shadows and tunnels with no light at the end. The abyss — that true abyss of your nightmares — is only a boot step away.

No doubt these primal fears are what keep people away from movies about mountain climbing. All I can say is get over it and go see this film. No matter how harrowing Touching the Void is, you have the comfort of knowing it has a happy ending.

Void is the true story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, the two British adventurers who made the first climb of the west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. Yet on their way back down, disaster struck — Joe broke his leg and hung helplessly over a precipice for many horrifying hours.

As the film depicts, the two men were unable to communicate with one another. And without a tug on the end of the rope that joins them, Simon fears Joe is dead. He has to make decision that will haunt him the rest of his life. He can send himself into what he assumes is inevitable death with Joe, or he can cut the rope between them and try to save himself. He cuts the rope.

Simon manages to climb down the mountain and collapse into camp the next day. He grieves for his dead partner and the terrible decision he had to make, staying in camp longer than he ordinarily would have.

But Joe doesn’t die. He forces himself — step by excruciating step over seemingly endless days and nights — out of the crevasse toward sunlight, and across the glacier and down the mountainside toward base camp. He doesn’t find God. He doesn’t dream of his girlfriend and baby back home. He just doesn’t want to die alone.

Void is more than a film masterpiece — it’s a visceral experience. It makes all of us sober couch potatoes question what we would do if faced with what any sane person would determine is certain death. Would we just wait there for the inevitable? Or would we climb, crawl, pull and drag ourselves forward, holding onto that one tiny, ever-escaping thread of life?

Void is directed by Oscar-winning Englishman Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September, about the Munich Olympics), narrated by the real survivors and re-enacted with able actors and stuntmen. The tale at the film’s heart is so riveting that only afterwards do you take your brain off automatic-pilot and think about it. Only because I had to write about the movie did I take specific notice of things like the stunning photography and sound, and the seemingly effortless way that all the pieces were woven together.

Everyone else who saw Void with me was also rigid with attention, pulled away from the theater by the filmmakers’ powerful skills, and cast into the mountains and the struggle to survive them.

— reviewed by Marci Miller

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One thought on “Touching the Void

  1. Jay

    For goodness’ sake! Kevin Macdonald was born in Glasgow, Scotland – that makes him a Scotsman, NOT an Englishman!!

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