Film Reviews

TOUCHING THE VOID (Victoria)

By • Jan 23rd, 2004 •

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IFC Films / A Darlow Smithson production for FilmFour
Running time — 106 minutes / No MPAA rating

It comes down to this: He cut the rope. Did he do the right thing? What would you have done?

In 1985 twenty-five year old mountaineer Joe Simpson and twenty-one year old Simon Yates decided to climb Peru’s perilous, snow-covered Siula Grande. It had never been successfully climbed. Simpson and Yates were accomplished climbing buddies (who, evidently, climbed Siula without proper supplies. They had no back-up rescue plans, walkie-talkies, or even a whistle.) The type of climbing method they used – open push – linked the two men together by a rope. Each was the other’s lifeline. On the descent down, Simpson fell and severely shattered his leg. Dangling from the rope off a 100-foot ice cliff, Yates tried to help Simpson. Yates attempted to lower Simpson down gradually. In the process, Simpson plunged further. Slowly, the rope pulled on Yates. He quickly assumed Simpson was dead and he would be dragged off the mountain after him.

Yates cut the rope connecting them.

Yates made it back to base camp and told the friend who was waiting for them what has happened. Yates was in such a bad state that he required several days to recuperate. Meanwhile, Simpson had fallen into a deep, black crevasse. He had no food, no water, and was in excruciating pain. Incredibly, he survived by pulling himself out of the crevasse and literally crawling off the mountain back to base camp. It took him 3 1/2 days.

Simpson did not blame Yates but the mountaineering community did. Yates became (and still is) a pariah. Simpson wrote a book exonerating Yates from guilt and blame. His story was so moving and heroic that not only did it become an international bestseller, Simpson inspired other people facing insurmountable obstacles. He became an inspirational speaker. His story of survival is truly an awesome and terrifying tale.

Simpson did not give up. He knew what he was facing and overcame it.

Now, almost twenty years after Simpson’s harrowing ordeal, director Kevin Macdonald brings the story to life entwining the real-life Simpson and Yates with actors, Brendan Mackey and Nicholas Aaron. By weaving the dramatized story with interviews with Simpson and Yates, one gets a peculiar perspective. Macdonald films them in extreme close-up. There is not facial muscle that does not expose the truth.

The truth is there for you to judge for yourself.

I don’t know anything about mountain climbing in the Andes or mountaineering ethics. I do know that it is outrageously dangerous and when two men decide to climb an unfamiliar snow and ice mountain together, they must trust each other implicitly. Especially in this case, Simpson and Yates only had each other to rely on.

The daring challenge of bringing this story to the public and the uplifting message of pure hope and determination of one man’s will to live, makes TOUCHING THE VOID an engrossing film.

Watching Simpson’s story unfold and seeing him explain his ordeal, one thing is transparently evident to me: Had it been the other way around, Simpson would never have cut the rope freeing himself from Yates.


Credits:
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Producer: John Smithson
Based on the book by: Joe Simpson
Executive producers: Robin Gutch, Charles Furneaux, Paul Trijbits
Director of photography: Mike Eley
Editor: Justine Wright
Music: Alex Heffes

Cast:
Joe Simpson: Brendan Mackey
Simon Yates: Nicholas Aaron

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