Touching the Void

Some people see a mountain as an obstacle. Others see a mountain as a challenge. In 1985, two twenty-something British mountaineers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, saw the Siula Grande peak in the Peruvian Andes as the ultimate challenge. Unreachable by helicopter, the peak remained virgin territory. Using climbing skills refined in the Alps, Simpson and Yates opted to make their record breaking climb a straight ascent rather than use base camps.

Their remarkable and harrowing story is told in “Touching the Void,” an amazingly vivid recreation of the climb captured by Academy-Award winning director Kevin Macdonald and a crew of very brave and talented actors and technicians. Macdonald mixes documentary-style confessionals by Simpson and Yates with jaw-dropping docudrama footage that brings their words to life. What makes “Touching the Void” so compelling is that we’re given a front row seat of the event thanks to the recollections of the men who lived it.

In front of the camera are Brendan Mackey and Nicholas Aaron as Simpson and Yates, two actors who are to be commended for their willingness to endure the punishing conditions that befell their counterparts. Shooting on location and in the Alps, Macdonald convincingly puts us in the middle of their snowy hell, creating images that are both beautiful and daunting. The actors and narrators complete the illusion, drawing us into a world that seems real and foreboding.

We’re not surprised that Simpson (on whose book the film is based) and Yates made it to the peak of Silua Grande. Their skill and determination made the mountain an admirable foe to conquer. Once they reach the peak, we find ourselves lost in their achievement and celebration, unaware of what is to occur. To their surprise, the route down proves more treacherous, leading to Simpson shattering his leg. Knowing that leaving Simpson behind means a death sentence, Yates struggles to help him down the peak.

When the two become separated after the film’s most unnerving moment, what transpires is the stuff of legends, a heroic will to survive against all the odds. That Macdonald and his crew were able to recreate these moments and capture them on film is miraculous. Never have I felt so helpless than watching these men endure unfathomable hardship and not be able to do anything to help them. “Touching the Void” isn’t just a movie, it’s an experience that’s hard to shake.


Touching The Void Docudrama Scales Heights of Human Endurance


Brendan Mackey, Nicholas Aaron, Joe Simpson, Simon Yates. Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Not Rated. 106 Minutes.


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