Review of Touching The Void Directed by Kevin MacDonald
Touching the Voidtells the true story of two climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who set out to climb one of the highest mountain peaks in Peru — the Siula Grande. The documentary is based on the book written by Joe Simpson.
The Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes is a 21,000 foot mountain that no other climber had conquered, at least not from the west face. The book from which this documentary is based on is an international best seller. But telling the story through film presented a number of difficulties that doomed earlier attempts. Besides the dangerous location, the story involves just two climbers who become separated on the way down from the mountain. How then do you keep the story moving? Even when the two climbers are together dialogue between them would have been difficult. The director, Kevin MacDonald, came up with an ingenious (and I think totally original) idea of having the two climbers tell their story in a conversational manner while depicting the scenes through accurate recreations. The end result is a hybrid nonfiction film/documentary.
The recreation of the climb and of the events that followed were so authentic that I had, at first, thought that I was watching the actual climb and descent. It wasn't until Joe Simpson broke his leg in a fall that I realized that I was watching a recreation.
The main drama in this story begins when Joe Simpson slides down the face of the mountain and ends up breaking his leg. This happens early on in the descent. When his climbing partner, Simon Yates, reaches him, he has a difficult decision to make. Getting an injured climber down from a peak in the conditions that existed was practically impossible. But Simon came up with a plan to lower Joe using two ropes tied together. It was dangerous and difficult. At one point Joe finds himself dangling over a crevice in midair. Simon can't see what has happened to his friend; he can only feel the weight at the end of the line. After contemplating his options, Simon makes the decision to cut the rope. He is sure that he is sending his friend to his death, but Joe survives the fall. Simon climbs down the mountain and joins up with another companion who had remained behind at the base camp.
Joe soon realizes that he can't just stay where he is. His only chance for survival is to find a way out of the crevice and down the mountain. And he has to do this with a broken leg and no food and water. It's a survival story every bit as compelling as the Endurance story.
The recreation of this story is first rate both in the cinematography and in the acting by Brendan Mackey who portrays Joe Simpson and Nicholas Aaron who portrays Simon Yates. I've read climbing stories before, but not being a climber it was hard for me to visualize what I was reading. This film brings the story to life in a way that could not have been more realistic unless you had been there on the mountain.
The DVD has some excellent extras that complete the story. This is a first rate documentary that I highly recommend.