Touching the Void Movie Review

If you need convincing about the virtues of good conditioning, see this documentary. Without its subjects' extreme fitness the outcome of this mountaineering adventure would have been far different, more disastrous, and likely not told.

But it is told, and by the survivors of a climb that holds you spellbound in the expectation of grave misfortune even as you know how it will turn out because its talking heads are the adventurers themselves. As the film progresses, you keep expecting a camera pullback to reveal lost limbs and paraplegic narrators.

They relate the story of how, on a successful climb to the top of Peru's never-before conquered, 21,000-foot Siula Grande, Joe Simpson breaks his leg on the descent, requiring his partner Simon Yates to attempt a rescue calling for strength and strategy. Wrapped in blinding fog, Yates lowers his crippled companion rope length by rope length, 300 feet at a time, until Simpson drops to a place that puts both climbers in a precarious position and mortal danger.

With no way to see his buddy, Yates is at first mystified by the unrelieved tension on the line for far longer than expected. He finally realizes that what's causing the lifeline not to relax is Simpson's inability to gain a secure footing. This can only mean he must be suspended in space, off a ledge outcropping, and that the gradient of descent is vertical, over the void. Yates' attempts to pull up on the line prove futile, causing him to slip and lose his own footing.

With night falling and temperatures turning frigid, Yates then faces untenable options. After much anguish he reaches a desperate decision that suddenly elevates this account of an edgy climbing experience into a life or death drama. It is powerfully delivered by the participants as it's reenacted convincingly by actors Brendan Mackey (as Joe Simpson) and Nicholas Aaron (as Simon Yates). The juxtaposition of the re-created events with the survivors affirming them from their unique perspectives is startling and, at times, defies belief.

Bringing the ordeal to us in icy, vivid detail are cameramen Keith Partridge, Simon Wagen, and Dan Shoring. Under some fine direction by Kevin Macdonald, they produce all the coverage needed to capture the excitement of a monster challenge, the heartbreak of hopelessness, and an outcome that turned failure into something else. It makes for a gripping tale and a jaw-dropping documentary.

While the editing might jump a little here or there and the visual quality less than perfect in instances, the sense of reality and the many glimpses of mountain magnificence are enough to put aside any call for technical perfection. Just thinking of the crew positioning themselves for filming angles when conditions get worse than harsh on that unyielding peak is enough to tingle the nerves.

When you see this film, bundle up and be prepared for an education in the possible.

And handful of extras back up the DVD, including making-of featurettes and a "what happened next" interview with the duo.

Momma told me not to touch the void.


rachel s's picture

rachel s

umm, you have photos of joe simpson (jessica simpson's father) accompanying this review of touching the void... that's not the same person... lol!joe simpson is british,,, duh....

5 years 3 days ago
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Touching the Void Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2003


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