Touching The Void

2004, Movie, NR, 106 mins

Review

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Kevin Macdonald's documentary/ docudrama juxtaposes stunningly beautiful scenery and the nearly unbelievable true story of a mountain-climbing expedition gone awry to chilling effect. Macdonald's unusual narrative approach combines recent interviews with real-life climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, and dramatic recreations of their harrowing experience on Siula Grande, a previously unconquered peak in the Peruvian Andes. In 1985, the young but experienced mountain climbers set out to scale Siula Grande's 21,000-foot summit. Yates, 21, and Simpson, 25, were climbing Alpine style, tied together with thin ropes and ascending rapidly, carrying all their belongings instead of establishing base camps to which they could retreat in case of trouble. This technique leaves little room for error, and leaves climbers unable to communicate with a rescue team in case of an accident. After reaching the summit with relative ease, they tried to walk across a narrow, snow-covered ridge covered with deceptively stable-looking swaths of powdered snow before starting their descent. Misfortune struck suddenly: Simpson slid over a precarious ledge and shattered several bones in his leg. His tibia was forced up through his knee, leaving him unable to walk. The situation could easily have meant a death sentence for both adventurers. Yates attempted to lower his partner down from the mountaintop using their available rope, a precarious process made worse by their inability to sink anchors into the ice-covered mountainside. And another disaster soon followed: Inching along in the dark, Yates accidentally lowered Simpson over a ledge; Simpson now dangled over an 80-foot drop into a deep, dark crevasse (a glacial fissure), and fierce winds made conversation impossible. Faced with a terrible choice — cutting the rope and almost certainly condemning his partner or hanging on to the thin piece of nylon with frostbitten fingers until his strength gave out, dooming them both — Yates cut the rope. The next morning, Yates searched fruitlessly for Simpson, then climbed down to their original campsite at the mountain's base, presuming Simpson was dead. He wasn't: After falling nearly 150 feet, Simpson awoke in the depths of the crevasse and was forced to rely on his own inner strength and ingenuity to stay alive despite his injuries, lack of supplies and the imminent danger of dehydration. Many members of the climbing community shunned Yates after the incident — but Simpson himself voices support for his friend's choices and Macdonald avoids assigning blame to concentrate on evoking vividly both climbers' experiences. leave a comment --Angel Cohn

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