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3 reviews, 25 user ratings

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Touching the Void
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by EricDSnider

"See, this is why I never, ever go outside."
5 stars

"Touching the Void" is one of the most extraordinary stories of endurance I have ever seen. If it were a fictional story, I would dismiss it as implausible and preposterous. As a documentary -- which is to say, all of this really happened -- it's astonishing.

In 1985 British mountaineers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates set out to climb the face of Peru's Siula Grande. They were experienced ice-climbers who felt the mountain would be a challenge, but not an impossible one. They left an associate, Richard Hawking, down at the base to wait for their return, which they believed would be in just a few days.

I do not need to tell you that a few things went wrong. Because I want you to see this movie, and because you probably don't remember the story from when it happened (though you may have seen the book Joe wrote, also called "Touching the Void"), I won't reveal the details. Suffice it to say that one of the men was injured and subsequently separated from his partner, all in the midst of weather conditions that bordered on blizzard-like, with a dearth of food and water available to them. (You need several liters of water per day when doing strenuous activity like mountain-climbing, and you can only eat so much snow.)

Director Kevin Macdonald, whose Oscar-winning "One Day in September" (2000) is another documentary worth visiting, interviews Joe, Simon and Richard in detail, and they provide the narrative. He needed something for us to look at, though, so he hired actors -- Nicholas Aaron as Simon and Brendan Mackey as Joe -- to re-create many of the physical details of the perilous adventure. We are thus able to see, as well as hear, what happened.

Macdonald doesn't have the actors speak much dialogue, leaving it to the real Joe and Simon to explain it in their own words. So the actors provide only a physical presence, but their impact on the movie is immeasurable. Macdonald captures some beautiful mountain footage (he shot on location in Peru), and much of what the actors do does seem dangerous, though of course they had photographic tricks and stunt men on their side, which Joe and Simon did not.

I spent much of the film shaking my head in disbelief as I saw what men are capable of doing in dire circumstances, the extent to which people can be broken down and still come back. There were at least three points when I thought, "Well, that's it, there's no way he can survive this," followed immediately by the thought, "But he obviously DID survive, because he's NARRATING THE STORY!"

What a scary, engrossing movie this is! It is summed up by something Joe says in the narration, which I submit as the understatement of the year: "I can be insanely stubborn."

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originally posted: 02/15/04 06:02:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/15/15 john fucking shit 1 stars
12/15/09 brian Ow. 4 stars
2/26/08 pkr 'And then he cut the rope." I am speechless. 5 stars
12/06/05 Sally Colbert Absolutely engrossing 5 stars
8/03/05 ALDO Makes you feel like a real wimpy piece of shit 5 stars
7/16/05 HL Reality at Its Finest...Forget Hollywood BS! 5 stars
7/05/05 Dan Really a great movie, albeit, you get angry at people for doing this to themselves. 5 stars
7/02/05 pin Lousy feature (K2) - Great Doc. Simple & Powerful. 5 stars
6/23/05 malcolm i have NOTHING to complain about. may have been better as a feature. maybe not. 4 stars
11/23/04 R.W. Welch A real cliff-hanger with an intriguing moral dilemna at its root. 4 stars
11/22/04 psycho black dwarf Few cliches apply, most artifice stripped away=Touching the Void 4 stars
9/08/04 Huge Harold Very powerful, very cold. Stunning 5 stars
8/07/04 howdinski This is a real eye opener of a film. makes you glad to be alive and warm 5 stars
6/20/04 john bale This Centuries White Hell of Pitz Palu - brilliant reconstruction of gutsy survival. 5 stars
6/17/04 andy g. A powerful movie! 4 stars
6/03/04 Elizabeth Simply amazing story, often told with supreme understatement by Simon Yates & Joe Simpson. 5 stars
5/14/04 Marilyn Couture Everyone should see this! 5 stars
3/25/04 Heather Purplethorne Stunningly and excruciatingly poignant. See it! 5 stars
3/09/04 Dspell13 This is the best mountaineering film ever. 5 stars
3/06/04 Bingo was his name-o Absolutely unbelievable. More gripping than any action movie. 5 stars
2/23/04 Eric S. Even though I have read the book twice, I still leaned forward in my seat with anticipation 5 stars
2/19/04 Graham Among a lot of other good things, it's the scariest movie of the year. 5 stars
1/24/04 Todd Finally!!!! Someone actually got mountain climbing right for once. Amazing story 5 stars
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  23-Jan-2004 (R)
  DVD: 15-Jun-2004


  24-Jun-2004 (M)

Directed by
  Kevin Macdonald

Written by

  Joe Simpson
  Nicholas Aaron

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