TOUCHING THE VOID
Based on Joe Simpson's account of his (mis)adventures with fellow mountain climber Simon Yates when they barely escaped death in the high Peruvian mountains in 1985, attempting to climb the 7,200 metre Siula Grande, which has never been successfully climbed - before or since.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Kevin Macdonald's extraordinary film creates a new benchmark for dramatised adventure documentaries, coming close to being both a dramatic feature film with actors, and a documentary resting on real - and amazing - events. The biggest difference, the use of actors whose faces become our entry point for the action in the drama, is also the riskiest element. But with the collaboration of an excellent crew and the pressing reality of the Peruvian location, the risk pays off.
Interspaced with the survivors talking directly to camera as they recall the experience in sometimes harrowing detail, the recreation helps us come to terms with the enormity of the mountains, the enormity of the danger and the enormity of the endurance that helped them survive. And even though we know they did, Macdonald (with great help from editor Justine Wright) manages to maintain the tension, as if we didn't.
The spectacle of the rugged, deserted mountains of Peru adds formidable visual power to the film, and contrasts with the often moving honesty and self analysis of the two men. We marvel at their endurance and courage, not because they display a square jawed heroism, but precisely the opposite: they reveal their moments of terror, their self pity, their despair, and then we see how they just go on despite all that.
The key incident from an ethical point of view concerns Simon's decision at one perilous stage (I won't spoilt it with detail) is a perfect moral dilemma for the film and one which gives it the depth to stand this extensive and meticulous treatment. If you enjoyed the IMAX film Shackleton's Arctic Adventure (the story of a 17 month survival odyssey in 1914) you will thoroughly enjoy this.
Review by Louise Keller:
An inspiring tale of survival, Touching The Void is the heart-stopping recount of an amazing, but true story of triumph over adversity. The decision for the filmmakers to tell this story not as a feature film, but as a docu-drama with a documentary flavour pays off, allowing us to connect with the subtlety of each monumental moment. Of course hearing Joe Simpson and Simon Yates tell their own story in their own words accounts for much of the poignancy, and in particular, the understatement with which they express themselves.
Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald has created a truly extraordinary film that not only takes us into hazardous terrains at the top of the world, but explores the very abyss of our emotional capacity. How much endurance can we take? How would we react? How strong is the will to survive? What of the bonds of friendship, and what is the line between loyalty and betrayal?
There's a stark contrast between the studio shots with Simpson and Yates as they remember the events, and the spectacular, harsh alpine locations. Emotionally, the narration and drama fuse into one, with the faces of the two actors distorted by the ravages of cold. Adventure turns to nightmare as thing go 'wildly wrong'; adverse below-freezing conditions, lack of fuel and water and the accident that leaves Simpson unable to walk.
Simpson and Yates were twenty-something climbers at their peak, who were almost cocky in their belief they could climb any mountain that had not yet been climbed. We glimpse their motivation - space, freedom, challenge. Then we hear that 80% of accidents occur during the descent, and suddenly what had been described as a mix of 'ballet and gymnastics' appears like torture.
Physically and psychologically, we are there for every second through the searing wind, the treacherous snow, the chill of the ice and the endless darkness of the crevasses. Perspective is put in its place and we are shown the contrast between the massive mountains and the tiny figures climbing them. Tension builds up to a crescendo as hope turns to despair, and then again to renewed hope. An electric journey filled with critical decision-making, Touching The Void touches our souls as we recognise the tenacity and heroism of the human spirit.
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TOUCHING THE VOID (M)
CAST: Nichola Aaron, Brendan Mackey, Richard Hawking, Simon Yates, Joe Simpson
PRODUCER: John Smithson
DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald
SCRIPT: Joe Simpson (book)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mike Eley, Keith Partridge
EDITOR: Justine Wright
MUSIC: Alex Heffes, Bevan Smith (electronic)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Patrick Bill
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 24, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: 21st Century Pictures Video
VIDEO RELEASE: November 24, 2004