July 8, 2004

Touching the Void (Review)

Touching the Void tells the true story of Simon Yates and Joe Simpson, two climbers that attempted a never-before conquered summit: Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.

Their story is remarkable because of the accident that left Joe horribly injured and unable to climb back down the mountain, but also for the decision Joe must come to at a point when he has reached a snag trying to lower Simon down the mountain himself.

The film follows the story as told by Joe in his book of the same name, but is narrated by Simon, Joe and Richard Hawking who awaited them in a mountain campsite. Dramatizations provide a view of the action while the people who were there give you their first hand feelings and perceptions.

This film is necessarily very personal, since the three participants spent most of their time either alone or alone with their thoughts. Almost as much of the drama comes from the psychological state of Joe as he repeatedly faces near-certain death, as comes from the gargantuan mountains and relentless ice and snow.

Included on the DVD are a couple of decent features. A “making of” gives you some insight into Joe’s return to Peru for the making of this film, and provides some perspective. Joe makes it pretty clear when he returns to the base camp that even he is not sure what emotions to attach to the place where he was ultimately found. As the filming wears on, he’s soured on the whole effort. But you wonder how deeply it is affecting him, and how it affects Simon as well. Could it not affect them? The events have clearly had huge lasting psychological effects.

Another informative feature is a completion of the story of what happened after Joe was discovered called “What Happened Next.” It was probably left out of the feature for time, but it really completes the story in an important way. The man made a mess of his leg, and I personally wondered how the heck he made it off the mountain.

But, then again, it’s exponentially more baffling and amazing that Joe made it down the slope at all on his own, and back to base camp.

It’s a gripping story, but it may not be for everyone. You might just wonder “why the hell did they do such a thing?” In that context, the drama might be overshadowed a bit. But whether you regard this story with admiration or bewilderment, the story is told well and it will certainly be of interest to folks who like mountaineering or adventure.

Posted by James at July 8, 2004 2:15 AM
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Funny - I had never heard of this before a few months ago, when it was a page in my Worst Case Scenario daily calendar. It was fascinating enough that I set the page aside to look for more info on the story later. I had no idea there was a movie!

Posted by: Julie at July 8, 2004 3:59 PM

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