In 1985, avid mountaineers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates traveled to the far
reaches of Peru, hoping to climb the dangerous and unconquered peak known as
Siula Grande. Relying on determination and the joy of climbing, the two quickly
found themselves in deep trouble with the elements. When Joe breaks his leg slips off the mountain, Simon's loose grip on
the tether between them is his only connection to safety. Unable to communicate,
Simon was confronted with the possibility that his friend might be dead, and
after deep consideration, he cut the rope that linked them, sending Joe down
into the dark pits of an ice crevice. "Touching the Void" (IMDb listing) details the true story
of how Joe began a long journey of the mind and body, and found his way down the
mountain, hoping to find his friend and safety again.
Based on the best selling book, "Touching the Void" endeavors to bring to life
this amazing tale of survival and endurance. Through exhaustive dramatic
recreation and on-screen interviews with the two men, noted documentary
filmmaker Kevin Macdonald ("One Day in September") aims to take viewers into the
heart of this amazing mountaineering incident, and to confront survival in its
most pure form. Does he succeed? In a very direct way, yes. "Void" is a gripping
story, utilizing the opportunities for claustrophobia and dread in all those
delectable cinematic ways. This is a unique film, as two separate viewpoints on
the story are presented, sometimes unintentionally contradicting each other.
Macdonald takes substantial time and patience in building up the drama through
his recreations (performed by Nicholas Aaron and Brendan Mackey), making the
inevitable tragic situation hit all the right emotional buttons. In
the climbing world, there were angry fingers pointed at Simon for his actions,
but Macdonald keeps the film somewhere in the middle, letting the audience
decide if there is fault to be found in Simon's critical decision. Once Joe is
dispatched into the deep abyss of ice and snow, "Void" works the nightmare nerve
thoroughly, with Macdonald depicting a peaceful, angelic hell that appears at
first to have no exits. Joe's struggles in this section of the picture are the
stuff of great filmmaking and smack-yourself-in-the-head true life adventure.
Where I was less convinced with "Void" is Joe's long road back to base camp,
which was littered with hallucinations, relentless pain, and brutal dehydration.
Where Macdonald seemed so confident in the opening act of the picture building
suspense with time and careful camera placement, he lets go in the middle act
with silly, almost embarrassing handheld-photographed simulations of Joe's
mental state. Joe was plagued with mental instability all the way down the
mountain, and Macdonald rarely passes on an opportunity to dramatize it, even
though the audience understands right away how tall the chips are stacked
against the crippled climber. It becomes redundant and unnecessary quickly.
I'm also not thrilled with the epilogue to the story. The film uses three cards
of information to sum up the event and its fallout on the climbing community,
and that is it. Are Joe and Simon still friends? Can Joe walk normally these
days? Do they mind reliving the hellish event over and over again? And how did
Simon manage to get Joe to help when he was finally discovered? Unanswered, and
"Touching the Void" is a good pseudo-documentary, but the nagging questions
could've easily replaced the wasteful screen time given to hammering home the
obvious situation: that these climbers found themselves in quite a bind, with
only instinct keeping them alive and moving.
Filmfodder Grade: B-