TOUCHING THE VOID is a documentary that recalls the astonishingly true tale of two mountain climbers’ survival. The movie alternates between Joe Simpson and Simon Yates telling their stories to the camera with scenes of actors vividly recreating their experiences. Their admittedly nightmarish climb of Peru’s Siula Grande in 1985, which has never been successfully repeated, recounts remarkable heroism, courage, and survival.
Knowing full well that 80 percent of all climbing accidents occur on descent, Joe ironically suffers a short fall just 20 minutes after leaving the 21,000-foot summit. The fall breaks his leg in such a horrific way, even he recognizes that his death is almost assured. Adding to their frighteningly dim prospects of survival, the climbers have run out of water and now face temperatures of –80 degrees. Logic dictates that the capable climber should abandon his injured partner for the difficult descent, recognizing that no rescue party could return in time to save him. Understanding the risks, Joe expects Simon to save himself and leave Joe to die. Undeterred, Simon elects to attempt an unprecedented one-man mountain rescue effort that jeopardizes both men’s lives.
Using all the rope they have carried, Simon ingeniously works out a way to lower his partner rapidly down the vertical descent 300 feet at a time. It is harrowing and painful for Joe, but he is grateful for Simon’s determination to save his life. Tragedy occurs again when Simon lowers Joe over an unseen cliff in the dark. Distance and a fierce storm prevent Simon from hearing Joe’s cries. A full hour passes by as Simon suffers dehydration and frostbite while trying to hold the rope for his friend. Ninety agonizing minutes pass and Simon realizes that he cannot hold his partner indefinitely. His precarious ice shelf is rapidly becoming unstable, so Simon decides to cut Joe’s rope to prevent both climbers from falling to their deaths.
Joe falls 150 feet into a terrifying crevasse (a mountain climber’s genuine nightmare) but survives the fall by landing on a ledge in the icy darkness. Simon grieves over Joe’s presumed death and, tragically, Joe believes Simon has fallen to his death while trying to lower him down the treacherous mountain face. Both men now believe they are completely alone.
The struggles that follow are chronicled in the last half of the movie and audiences will be riveted by the ensuing experiences of these young men. Their story would be unbelievable as fiction, yet are honestly chronicled in this convincing documentary. TOUCHING THE VOID is chilling in every way. Watching these men struggle to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds is tremendously inspiring. Regrettably, it is filled with harsh language and numerous profanities. Worse yet, the main character confides that he abandoned his Catholic roots as a youth and, facing death’s door time and again, sees no evidence of God’s existence or an afterlife. Particularly poignant, however, Joe describes crawling in excruciating pain – “not to survive” (for he had no illusions of survival) – but to simply be with someone when he died.
TOUCHING THE VOID touches a chord deep within the human spirit. Viewers may not be able to relate to a mountain climber’s passion to scale daunting heights, but audiences will wonder if they themselves could fight as hard and with as much determination to survive. Nearing his breaking point, Joe describes being stripped of his humanity at the precipice of death. Moviegoers, too, will face their own mortality as they vicariously experience Joe’s tragedies and victories.
Though filled with mature themes, TOUCHING THE VOID is an undeniably fascinating movie. Joe acknowledges his atheism, but Simon (the unsung hero of this story) expresses courage and sacrifice in the face of sure defeat. Also, he wrestles with his guilt about allowing Joe’s “death” and chooses truth over a lie about his own responsibility. Obliquely, Simon adds an underlying moral element to this largely humanistic tale. Either way, it is a story overflowing with inspiration. The movie captures the allure and majestic beauty of the Andes while taking time to wonder at the stars in the heavens. Breathtaking and enlightening, TOUCHING THE VOID is bound to please climbers and non-climbers alike. It will grip your sense of wonder and imagination as powerfully as an ice axe driven into a glacier wall.
MOVIEGUIDE® interviewed Joe Simpson and director Kevin MacDonald and learned some interesting news beyond the story the movie conveys. When Joe returned in his crippled state, his mother did not seem surprised by his astounding account of survival. Rather, she told Joe that she and her church were praying for him every day he was away. Strikingly humble, the only reason Joe wrote the book about his “bad day at the office” was to defend Simon against the criticism he faced among his mountaineering peers. For nearly 20 years, Simon has had to live with the reputation of being “the guy who cut the rope.” To this day, Joe defends Simon’s actions and hopes the documentary accurately honors his heroism. Director MacDonald added that he thinks Christians will see these extraordinary events as a “series of miracles” rather than just one man’s ability to overcome. Please pray for Joe Simpson. It is hoped that he will encounter a personal relationship with God before he, once again, stands on the precipice of eternity.
Please address your comments to:
David Darlow and John Smithson
Darlow Smithson Productions
Fifth Floor, Highgate Business Center
33 Greenwood Place
London NW5 1LB
SUMMARY: TOUCHING THE VOID is a documentary that recreates the astonishingly true tale of two mountain climbers’ survival. Although, regrettably, it is filled with harsh language and numerous profanities, TOUCHING THE VOID touches a chord deep within the human spirit and is awe-inspiring and brutally honest.
(HH, AbAb, B, C, LLL, V, N, M) Strong humanist worldview where main character expresses his belief that God does not exist and admits that he left his Catholic faith years earlier and sees no need to return to it, as well as themes of sacrifice, heroic struggle, and man’s reliance on his own power; 30 strong obscenities and four profanities; violence includes climber falling numerous times and breaking his leg (though nothing explicitly shown) and screams of pain; brief vomiting scene, man urinates in his clothes; naturalistic nudity as man bathes in river wearing underwear; and, nothing else objectionable.