Sunday, August 24, 2008

Touching the Void (2003) R - 4 Stars

I'm amazed how real the footage looked to what it must have been like for these two young mountain climbers. At first, I thought I was watching their own documentary of their journey up the mountain. Bravo for such a great reenactment of the actual events of their climb. It's amazing and a miracle that either of the men survived their ordeal.

In 1985, Joe Simpson (Brendan Mackey) and Simon Yates (Richard Hawking), went to the Andes to climb the treacherous west face of Siula Grande which had never been done before. One thing I learned was the term Alpine Style of climbing. This means that you are attached to the other climber by a rope where if one messes up, chances are you are going to take the other one with you. You really have to trust the person you are climbing with as he can be your umbilical cord to your life line.

The two young men were experienced climbers and decided to climb the face in one move straight up rather than carry extra rope and equipment for making base camps along the way. This way they could reach the summit sooner. Many storms plagued the men and made climbing even more treacherous as the snow would turn to powder and provide no safe place to attach themselves. On the third day, they finally reach the summit of approximately 21,000 feet. After enjoying their panoramic view victory, the men must struggle now to get down the mountain as soon as possible as they have no reserve food, no gas to melt snow for water and no base camp to make it to providing shelter.

On the climb down Simpson fell and broke his leg shoving the bone far up inside of his thigh. In Alpine climbing this usually means certain death as your partner must cut loose and you are left to fend for yourself. However, Yates decided to try to lower Simpson down the mountain by combining their two ropes into one. This way he could lower Simpson down approx. 300 feet at a time and then climb down to reach him and start the process over again. In almost white out conditions, the two make their way down the mountain till Yates accidentally lowers Simpson over the side of a cliff. Unable to grab anything to take his weight off the rope, Simpson lays dangling over the edge. Yates can not see what is happening and the tow can not hear each others cries. Yates struggles to hold Simpson as his make shift seat on the mountain side is blowing away like sugar around him. When he can take no more, his only choice is to cut the rope or risk certain death by being pulled down from the weight.

Yates pulls a small pocket knife out and makes the cut sending Simpson to his certain death. But somehow, Simpson survived the fall as his body was flung deep into a crevasse with no chance of his climbing out of. As he lay there calling for Simon's assistance, he realizes his calls will never be heard. Yates struggles with his quilt and his own predicament as he tries to make it the rest of the way down the mountain. While Simpson barely able to move must find a way to climb farther down the crevasse as he can't go up. After seven days on the mountain, both climbers will make it back to the bottom and that base camp.

2004 - Touching the Void - Boston Society of Film Critics - Best Documentary Runner up.

IFC Films
Director: Kevin MacDonald
Producer: John Smithson
I viewed 8/08

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OMG ZOLA - I rented this flick as I have friends who really take this sport seriously. I knew there is always a danger but - WOW - I had no idea what these guys went through. GREAT PICK THANKS. I'm checking back often.