Nishan Fuard

Touching The Void

23rd July 2004
Touching the Void Poster reviewer: Nishan Fuard
rating: 5 out of 5
directed by: Kevin Macdonald
written by: Joe Simpson
starring: Nicholas Aaron, Richard Hawking, Joe Simpson, Simon Yates
genre: Documentary
released: 12th December 2003

Touching the Void doesn’t have the special effects of even Hollywood’s laziest effort, but it’s not short of action. What’s more, the film will linger in your mind long after the popcorn is devoured and the watery dregs of Pepsi slurped.

In 1985 two young British mountaineers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, conquer the west face of the Siula Grande, the second highest peak in the Peruvian Andes. However, during the tricky descent Simpson shatters his leg. The injury is fatal in the dreadful conditions because there is no help available. In fact, the only person who knows their location is Richard Leaming, a young adventurer the pair had met in Peru, who remains at base camp. When Simpson slips and ends up dangling inside a crevasse, Yates, knowing that he can’t hold on, decides to cut the rope.

How Simpson survived the fall and endured a four-day crawl to camp is the heart of this dramatised documentary by the Oscar-winning Kevin MacDonald. It uses actors on location with shots of Simpson, Yates and Leaming speaking to the camera as commentary. The film is stunning; the shots of the peak and glacier are a spectacle unmatched by computer-generated images.

Touching the Void is about being human and living life – the challenges, the choices, the pain, but most of all the desire to live. And it is all told without the bombast and overwrought heroism of the typical Tinseltown tale.

The film is not without humour. In one extraordinary scene Simpson, weakened and unable to continue, starts hearing Boney M’s ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’. Knowing that he can’t die with that song going through his mind Simpson decides to press on.

One moment that will forever remain with me is when Simpson, a lapsed Catholic, admits that at his lowest moment there was no call to prayer. He knew then that he didn’t believe, that if he waited for divine intervention or even inspiration he would die.

This is an enthralling and remarkable film.