» » Touching the Void (2003)

Short summary

The true story of two climbers and their perilous journey up the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.
In the mid-80's two young climbers attempted to reach the summit of Siula Grande in Peru; a feat that had previously been attempted but never achieved. With an extra man looking after base camp, Simon and Joe set off to scale the mount in one long push over several days. The peak is reached within three days, however on the descent Joe falls and breaks his leg. Despite what it means, the two continue with Simon letting Joe out on a rope for 300 meters, then descending to join him and so on. However when Joe goes out over an overhang with no way of climbing back up, Simon makes the decision to cut the rope. Joe falls into a crevasse and Simon, assuming him dead, continues back down. Joe however survives the fall and was lucky to hit a ledge in the crevasse. This is the story of how he got back down.

Trailers "Touching the Void (2003)"

At the end of the movie, there's a written line claiming that Simon faced "strong criticism" from the climbing community after his return to England. This claim has been repeated in several press statements and reviews, but it's not correct. What really happened is that, one month after his return in Europe, Simon went climbing in the Alps, unaware that the Daily Mail newspaper had published a wildly incorrect version of the Siula story, implying that Simon had tried to kill Joe. This was of course absurd, and the British climbing community dismissed it immediately as nonsense. However, back home Simon discovered that a small group of senior members of the Mount Everest Foundation (the body that manages founding for climbing expeditions in the Greater Ranges) had misjudged the story and now wanted Simon excluded in the future from the MEF funds - a move that could basically kill Simon's climbing career. At this point however, Joe Simpson had a correct version of the Siula story published in a respected climbing magazine, and the whole issue was cleared. However, in the DVD commentary, Joe Simpson himself clearly says that Simon came under much criticism after returning home, and that he wrote Touching the Void to defend Simon.

Some of the long distance shots of Simon and Joe climbing the mountain are played not by the lead actors, but by body doubles, who were Simon Yates and Joe Simpson themselves.

The film makers took both Joe and Simon back to Peru to shoot on the actual glacier and terrain where the events originally took place. Local mountaineers were filmed on the glacier, but did not climb the actual mountain on Joe and Simon's request as they felt it was too dangerous.

User reviews

  • comment
    • Author: Ces
    In the mid-80's two young climbers attempted to reach the summit of Siula Grande in Peru - a feat that had previously been attempted but never achieved. With an extra man looking after base camp, Simon and Joe set off to scale the mount in one long push over several days. The peak is reached, however on the descent Joe falls and breaks his leg. Despite what it means, the two continue with Simon letting Joe out on a rope for 300 feet, then descending to join him and so on. However when Joe goes out over an overhang with no way of climbing back up, Simon makes the decision to cut the rope. Joe falls into a crevice and Simon, assuming him dead, continues back down. Joe however survives the fall and was lucky to hit a ledge in the crevice. This is the story of how he got back down.

    Yet another reason to lament the closing of Film Four's doors, this film is the cinematic equivalent of sitting listening to someone tell you an amazing story in their own words. The film is acted out in dramatised scenes but it is Joe's and Simon's words over the top that really will keep you hanging on. The dramatised scenes though, are still wonderful, it is very easy to forget that this was not somehow filmed at the time, not only do they look very, very real but they also look spectacular; when Joe talks about the imposing crevice he was in, the pictures on screen did much better at translating that into visuals than my non-mountaineering imagination could have done.

    The two actors in the roles of Joe and Simon do a great job; like I said, it is very easy to forget they are actors or that this is a replay for the camera. However the real people are more interesting and it is they that drive the film. To hear Joe talk about what he did and felt puts so much more bone on the story that any Hollywood version could have managed. He is a great guy and I can only imagine what he went through. Simon on the other hand is more guarded. He never really goes below the facts, whereas I know he has issues underneath as he apparently was not as calm as he is on camera during the making of the film. The film ends with some captions - one of which being that Simon came under great criticism for cutting the rope from other climbers. However the talking heads bit never even touches the surface of what Simon had to go through after they all got home - in a way that would have been just as interesting a part of the film as what Joe went through.

    As the story unfolds it is impossible not to sit shaking your head in amazement. At the start I was like everyone else 'why would you do this stuff for fun' etc, and I still think that, but the story is so gripping that it is impossible to think of anything else. The running time is generous and allows Simon to tell his story properly, it is amazing and the sense of impossible odds and the sheer pain involved is brought to the audience very well - even with a handful of people in the audience gasps and 'ah's' were very audible. Overall this film is more dramatic than any Hollywood drama I have seen in a long time. It is not without flaw but it is difficult to sit and just watch it - I was enthralled by it, a true dramatic human story that never let me get bored or distracted. By the end, Simon has put forward his many emotions so well that I was very moved. The only think that would have made this film better would have been a bit more of searching inside himself by Joe in the final 15 minutes, in my heart I doubt if I could ever forgive myself and I wonder how he did or if he did.
  • comment
    • Author: MisTereO
    Touching the Void tells the story of Simon and Joe; two mountain climbers whose trip to Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes ended in tragedy. I had never heard of either one of these men or their story before watching this film, but in the mountaineering world, they are the stuff of legend. I don't doubt that I'm not the only one to never have heard of them, so all in all, I think that this is a story that needs to be told. The story itself has all the ingredients of a successful human drama - it's gripping, exciting, realistic, continually intriguing, and overall it makes for a nice film. Carrying on with the recent trend that was kicked off with Bowling for Columbine, Touching the Void is filmed in a documentary style. This is definitely to the film's credit; the documentary style allows the auteur to tell a story and not have to worry about dramatics and so fourth. The documentary style is also detached in nature, so it allows the audience to make up their own mind about the events that they see on screen, and with a story as provocative as this one; that's what you want. The film is told from the men's points of view as well as seeing actors portray what happened on screen, and this allows the story to be effectively shown with an insight into their thoughts as well, which works a treat in my opinion.

    The story is one of intense courage and decision making in a situation where every decision is a bad one. The major provocative point comes from the decision that Simon makes when he chooses to cut his partner (Joe) off, causing him to fall down a ravine. In my opinion, Simon did the right thing. The only other choice was to not cut him off, and get pulled down himself; so it's Simon and Joe, or just Joe. I don't even think there's a debate. What did get me about Simon's character, however, was his attitude towards his partner's injury. He's just seen him fall down and break his leg, and his first thought is that if he falls off the cliff, he'll be able to go down alone, which would be much easier than hoisting Joe down with him. I don't know about you, but that's not the sort of partner I would want on a high-risk mountaineering trip. Not only that; but he didn't even check on the well being of his friend in the morning after the fall; I realize that his chances of survival are unlikely, but I would expect him to still check because you never know. And then, just to top it off, on his way down the mountain; he's debating with himself whether or not to tell what really happened or just make something up! And just for a final shock; he didn't make a better story up! I found his lack of caring to be rather shocking.

    The main story of the film, however, is not Simon's but Joe's; which is an absolutely amazing story of human courage. This man was not only extremely frightened as he was in the middle of nowhere on his own with no way to get help, but he also had to toil with a broken leg and extreme dehydration. The agony he must have been in is unimaginable, and yet he somehow managed to drag himself all the way down the mountain to safety. The man deserves a medal. The film allows the audience to stay with him throughout his ordeal; we really feel his pain and it makes the images on screen undoubtedly powerful. Had the film have been filmed in dramatics, without the documentary, it wouldn't have managed the same effect; and that is testament to the good decision to film it as a documentary. Despite the nature of the story, it also manages to be amusing at times, with Joe telling the audiences the thoughts of a doomed man, and a very surreal sequence involving Boney M. This story shows human courage like no other film I've ever seen, and what's more; it's all true and it all feels very real as well - it's almost like you're watching the actual events.

    Overall, Touching the Void is an incredible cinematic experience. There isn't another film quite like this one and it really does have to be seen to be believed. Highly recommended viewing for all.
  • comment
    • Author: Brightcaster
    This film describes the true story of a climbing accident in South America in 1985, using dramatisation with voice-overs and interview excerpts from the three British men who were actually involved. It may sound boring, but I cannot stress this enough: this film is much more tense, and nail-bitingly gripping, than any Hollywood action movie - because you know that everything you're seeing and hearing really did happen to these guys.

    The story itself is incredible. It will redefine for you the capabilities of the human mind and body. There is action, sadness, hope, and even brilliant humour in places.

    Please go and see this film; you won't regret it.
  • comment
    • Author: Brakora
    Awe-inspiring work by director Kevin Macdonald takes us with a minimum of fuss to a corner of the Andes in Peru for this epic tale of endurance against the elements. After what appears to be a relatively rapid, routine conquering of a 22,000 foot peak, we are left contemplating what might be in store to fill out the rest of the film. Suffice to say we are told that eighty per cent of climbing accidents occur on the descent. Harrowing times in the extreme soon present themselves, with amazing camera work accompanied by stark human emotions as life-affecting decisions have to be made in the harshest of conditions. There are only three actors in this reconstruction of an actual climb made in the 1980s. The original climbers themselves personally add to the screenplay at appropriate moments, to what I believe is just the right extent for maximum effect. We are made to wonder what drives a couple of fit 25-year-olds to climb to such heights, in such conditions, with an insufficient gas supply, no oxygen, and no backup team. But that is sometimes the reckless nature of young people that age.

    The viewer is left in no uncertain mind about the might of nature versus the insignificance of human effort. This is reinforced in most spectacular fashion by the use of zoom photography, underlining the sheer size of the Andes mountains. What does make the difference, though, is the strength of the human will, particularly when it comes to a matter of very survival. In this case we are given to believe this is largely driven by the fear of dying alone, but I found myself trying to identify what other motives might have been present in such dire circumstances. Considering the semi-documentary nature of the film, and the conditions under which it was made, I cannot rate Touching the Void less than 9 out of 10. It had me on the edge of my seat until the final credits.
  • comment
    • Author: Faezahn
    A recent article on "Touching the Void" focused on the reactions of mountaineers to films about their often deadly avocation. Many commented that virtually no movie dealing with mountain climbing felt real to them. I suspect that Kevin MacDonald's gripping part re-enactment, part-documentary may be the rare exception that will capture the interest of amateur and professional mountaineers. (I haven't climbed since 1966 when I and two fellow Army officers set the record for summiting Seoul, Korea's Namsan from its almost inaccessible east face.)

    Simon, a very experienced climber, and Joe, a younger devotee, sought to be the first to reach the top of Peru's Siula Grande through a forbidding and unconquered approach. Before heading to a remote location to establish a base camp they picked up Richard, a traveler with no experience or interest in climbing but a hale-fellow-well-met willing to babysit the camp while the two adventurers climbed.

    Getting to the top of the summit via an often near-sheer face was daunting enough and the duo made it. The trip back was the disaster. As one commented, eighty percent of injuries and deaths occur on the way down. Joe took a fall sustaining a very serious leg injury causing limited mobility, intractable pain and major damage. Simon figured out a way for the two to continue their descent but Joe later went crashing over the side and hung helplessly swinging in the air, his dead weight immobilizing Simon. Arguably both would have perished if this condition continued.

    In what remains a roiling full-fledged controversy amongst the mountaineering fraternity, Simon believed he could only save his life by cutting the rope from which Joe, with whom he could not communicate, dangled. The rope cut, Simon made his way back to base camp sure that his companion was dead. Simon's descent was perilous but compared to the still living Joe's evolving ordeal it was a walk in the park.

    Over almost a week, Joe survived on no food, virtually no water and sheer guts and determination to live. His trip down the mountain to within range of the tent where his weak voice was heard by the about to decamp climber and assistant is a truly unique and compelling survivor story, one of the most dramatic ever brought to film.

    Both the real climbers and Richard are narrators whose story unfolds between re-enactments by non-speaking but truly athletic actors. The make-up crew did wonders here to capture the brutal battering each sustained, especially Joe, during the climb and descent. The photography is magnificent.

    Joe has always maintained that he too would have cut the rope had his position and Simon's been reversed but his open and repeated acceptance of Simon's desperate act has been rejected by many mountaineers. I was particularly fascinated by this issue since as a law professor I begin my Criminal Law course, as do very many colleagues, with the very issue of necessity as a justification for one person to save his life by sacrificing the lives of others (no mountains but two celebrated cases involving the sea, one English, the other American, provide very similar moral and legal dilemmas to Simon and Joe's excruciating situation). While no legal action ensued from the Peru near tragedy, the same issues are there and remain for viewers to think about and discuss.

    Both Joe and Simon continue to climb, Joe after six operations to his shattered leg. Their accomplishment in scaling Siula Grande has not to date been duplicated. That must give each extraordinary satisfaction.

    This film is almost in a class of its own and I suspect it will become a talking point for climbers. For today's audience, attention was rapt and sighs and gasps escaped involuntarily as the climbers, and Joe especially, encountered one near fatal obstacle after the other.

  • comment
    • Author: Kegal
    There are exceptions, but mountaineering movies fall roughly into two classes; overblown, unrealistic cliffhanging (in more than one sense) dramas ('Eiger Sanction', 'K2', 'Cliffhanger', 'Vertical Limit') and rather trite descriptive documentaries often seen as padding for the 'National Geographic' channel schedules, although Jon Krakaur's 'Into Thin Air' managed to combine the worst of both worlds. Both classes have in common (usually) Gortex gear, superb mountain scenery and splendid cinematography. What distinguishes this survival story is that it has (sorry about this) high drama, an understated style and absolute authenticity. The actual principals, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, and Richard Hawkins the non-climber base camp minder, narrate their story as it is re-enacted, partly at the original site in Peru (though some filming was done in the European Alps), while actors (with very few lines to say) re-enact the saga of the Siula West Face climb. It all hangs together beautifully; and I was rapt from go to whoa. My disbelief was entirely suspended.

    Even documentaries are stories rather than fact (whatever that is) and this story is superbly told, for which director Kevin Macdonald can take full credit, though perhaps one should also thank Simon Yates and Joe Simpson for telling us their stories. One critic has taken the director to task in not dwelling on the moral issues involved – the cutting the rope bit. No mountaineering drama is without one of these but here it actually happened. That critic has missed the point – the approach here is 'be your own judge'.

    This film manages to appeal both to mountaineers (a small but highly critical audience) and non-mountaineers. As a (semi-retired) and undistinguished member of the former group, I found few nits to pick, though a more extended explanation of the difference between Alpine-style and Expedition climbing would help to show non-mountaineers that it wasn't a suicide attempt (though speaking for myself I wouldn't have tried it with less than four in the party). And as the film was about a climb that went wrong, the joy of climbing, which is not easy to explain to non-mountaineers was rather overshadowed by Joe's suffering as he dragged himself, leg broken, down the mountain. But never have I seen a more graphic illustration of the adage 'never give up'. Lie down to die and you will die. Joe and the Texan doctor on Everest (see 'Into Thin Air') both should have died, yet they survived. In the doctor's case it seems to have been some primeval instinct (he was not a mountaineer). In Joe's case he seems to have treated survival as a challenge and focused his thoughts accordingly ('I thought, in twenty minutes I'll be at the next rock'). I winced every time his broken leg hit something.

    To sum up this is a great film, which will live long in your memory, climber or non-climber.

    P.S. Simon was only 20 or so at the time, Joe a more mature 25. Both have kept climbing, though significantly not together.
  • comment
    • Author: Winotterin
    You'll be lucky if you have any cuticles left by the time you've finished watching `Touching the Void,' a nail-biting documentary that chronicles a true-life tale of miraculous survival. In 1985, two experienced mountain climbers, Simon Yates and Joe Simpson, set out to scale a peak in the Peruvian Andes. Although they successfully reached the summit, disaster struck as they were making their way back down. In the midst of a blinding blizzard, Joe slipped and broke his leg. The film, based on the book by Joe Simpson himself, recounts the grueling ordeal both men underwent in their efforts to make it back to their base camp alive.

    To fully dramatize the experience, director Kevin MacDonald filmed one-on-one interviews with the two survivors (as well as a third companion who didn't go up the mountain with them) commenting and reflecting on the event, then employed actors to reenact the event as it originally happened. MacDonald has done an astonishing job capturing the edge-of-the-seat suspense inherent in the material, this despite the fact that we already know how it will all turn out. By plunging us directly into the heart of the action, we feel we are enduring every death-defying, heartbreaking moment right along with Joe and Simon. `Touching the Void' is, if nothing else, a tour-de-force of breathtaking cinematography and stunt work, one that makes us identify with the characters every step of the way.

    Yet, for all its technical expertise, `Touching the Void' is, first and foremost, a human document, a testament to the endurance and survivability of both the human body and the human spirit. The amazing determination and perseverance demonstrated by the two men - especially by the then 25-year-old Joe as he struggles manfully, despite unendurable pain, to reach a place of safety - is inspiring even to those of us who do most of our adventuring from the comfort and safety of our living room armchair, a cold beer in hand. The film also reveals, through their actions and their words twenty some years later, the character of the two men. Simon has to live with the fact that, at a crucial moment in the crisis, he cut Joe loose from his line, consigning his partner to probable death so that he himself could survive – an action for which many fellow mountaineers later criticized Simon. Yet, never once – either then or now – does Joe join in that criticism. On the psychological level, we learn of the cavalcade of emotions and feelings Joe underwent in those moments of greatest desperation when he looked impending death square in the face. This film is as much an adventure of the mind as it is of the body. Paradoxically, at the same time as the film is showing us the indomitableness of the human spirit, it is reminding us how much we humans – even the most daring among us – are, ultimately, at the mercy of a far greater, impersonal and indifferent force known as Nature.

    Thanks to the compelling, stranger-than-fiction quality of the tale and the technical brilliance used to re-create it, `Touching the Void' will have you chewing your fingernails down to a nub.
  • comment
    • Author: Felhalar
    so i was completely and utterly amazed by my response to this movie... i guess i haven't explored the genre but the two men who survived were so HONEST!... it was refreshing to hear the way they spoke, of secretly wanting to leave the other man to die, but persisting because it was the right and humane thing to do... what courage it takes to admit that!... and to admit that you're stubborn and arrogant... that you were completely broken... it's rare to hear sportsmen talk this way...

    and they didn't seem to exude that attitude that non-climbers wouldn't understand, or that they were somehow superior to us ordinary folk (despite joe's self-confessed ego)... some interviews with climbers annoy me, but these guys were amazing...

    the sheer emotion they conveyed with the simultaneous reenactments and the articulate commentary was astounding... i was gritting my teeth at the implied pain and frustration and even became somewhat emotional at the reunion...

    this documentary has palpable, white-lightning power, and it will remain with you long after you've seen it... it's quite unlike anything i've viewed before...
  • comment
    • Author: Kecq
    Based on the best-selling book of the same name, Kevin Macdonald's docu-drama Touching the Void recreates the 1985 experience of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, two British mountaineers attempting to climb the Siula Grande Mountains of Peru, a mountain range no one had ever succeeded in scaling before. The film tells the story of how Simpson, alone at 21,000 feet -- with a broken leg, dehydrated, and a step away from death, pushed his broken body beyond the limits of what he knew to be possible in order to survive. Oscar-winning director of One Day in September, Macdonald uses actors Brendan Mackay (Simpson) and Nicholas Aaron (Yates) to recreate the adventure while the real climbers provide a running commentary.

    After ascending the west face of the mountain in 3 1/2 days using the "purest" style of climbing (sleeping in ice caves rather than setting up base camps along the way), the descent is treacherous as Simpson misses a step and his lower leg is driven into his kneecap. Tied together by a rope, Yates begins lowering his partner downward in the darkness, 300 feet at a time while Simpson is in excruciating pain. Progress is halted when Simpson is lowered into a crevasse and left dangling in mid-air, unable to signal his companion. Yates believes him to be dead and makes a crucial and controversial decision to cut the rope, leaving his partner alone and without support. Simpson has never blamed Yates for his decision and has gone to great lengths in his book and in interviews to defend Simon whose character has been continually under attack since that fateful day.

    The film was shot in authentic locations in the Andes and the Alps, and the result is a sense of being there, experiencing the pitiless forces of nature. Though the outcome is preordained, how the two friends managed to survive their ordeal provides more than enough heart-pounding suspense. The film shows Simpson trying to knot a rope with frozen fingers and guzzling the first muddy water he finds to counter the effects of severe dehydration. One of the most intriguing sequences shows the climber in a semi-delirious state listening in his mind to the sound of Boney M's Brown Girl in the Ring.

    While there is little in the way of spiritual epiphany (Simpson candidly discusses his atheism), there is an unmistakable feeling that both men have been strengthened by their shared ordeal. Simpson touches the void within him, an emptiness that compels him to keep going only because he "wanted to be with someone when I died". Reaching base camp in the middle of the night, he calls out but no one answers, `When no one answered the call", he says, "I lost something. I lost me.' Then, when Simon and Richard rescue him, the thing he remembers most is the feeling of being held. Though he did not experience a higher power guiding him, he does sense a freedom from the world's clutter that makes him feel more alive. Touching the Void is a tale of remarkable courage and determination that touches the place within ourselves that tells us that miracles can occur in our life if we are able to go beyond what we thought was possible and act as if our life depends on the result.
  • comment
    • Author: Raelin
    Even for those who cannot understand why anyone would attempt to risk their life to climb a peak that most will never even know about, this film is a true eye-opener. It will show you the part of climbing that many amateurs such as I will only read about..and now, through dramatic reenactments as described by the survivors, see in this film. The beauty of the mountain is juxtaposed in tense dramatic fashion by the two climbers struggle to survive. In pitting human against nature, it will force the viewer to confront themselves with the fundamental principle of American culture--the morality of self-interested, rational behavior. As the law prof reviewer suggested, you may come away from this film with a different outlook on "acceptable" behavior in an ethical sense.
  • comment
    • Author: Naril
    Touching The Void is part Documentary, and part dramatic re-enactment. Real interviews of Joe and Simon are inter-cut with dramatic re-enactments of their disastrous climb. If this had been a straight-up documentary, told by only interviews, it would have been a moving story, but would have lacked something. If it had been a straight-up dramatic movie, with actors and special effects, it would have been thrilling, but still missing some realism. Combining Joe and Simon's first hand story with realistic recreations on location is what this story needed to be told in the most realistic and scary way. The re-enactment was done on location at Siula Grande, with stunt climbers and actors. Watching the story unfold just by seeing the events on film is exciting, but when you're hearing Joe and Simon narrating their thoughts on the actual events at the same time, you can't help but feel genuine terror and concern for them. Take the scene where Joe is hanging over the cliff, ready to die. You know that he did survive, because you're seeing and hearing him talk about it in the movie, but it's his words that ground you in the moment. I've never heard a person talk about what it's like waiting to die, let alone have a visual image to go along with their words. I can honestly say that I was terrified for him, even knowing the outcome. And there are a dozen other scenes that produce the same effect. The majority of this film is made up of hopeless moments. Hearing Joe and Simon tell their story makes you believe it's hopeless, because that's how they actually felt at the time. This movie is very heavy, and almost as draining as an actual mountain descent would be. Touching The Void is as unique, powerful, and terrifying as any film I've seen in years.
  • comment
    • Author: Dominator
    The story of what happens when two British climbers try to reach the top of a previous unclimbed mountain is one of the most spellbinding films in years. A hybrid of talking heads and re-enactments this movie is one of the best films (on mountain climbing) ever made. You'll forgive me but its hard not to speak in terms like, best, greatest, ect when you talk about this film. I think its all best summed up by the term, "WOW!!!"

    I can only imagine what this would be like on a big screen, where the sense of scale would be overwhelming. Not having been able to see this on a big screen I've had to make due with the DVD, which contains an extra called "What happened next..." which is what you'll want to know once the credits start to roll.

    My only complaint, and its a small one, is that the pace of the second half could be a bit tighter, other wise this is simply a great great movie.

    9 out of 10.
  • comment
    • Author: Ice_One_Guys
    'To be seen on a big screen!!'

    I hated that line. I never thought it made much sense. Sure, when everyone had 13-inch television sets and a mono-VCR, I could understand how the movie going experience would be more enhanced at the local multi-plex. But in today's world of large screen, letterboxed television sets with surround sound sub-woofered DVD players, could I not enjoy any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy at home just the same as forking over $13 sans popcorn and parking to sit beside a bunch of strangers in the dark that will undoubtedly chat non-stop behind me and ignore my discomforting shhh's? (whew, deep breath!)

    'To be seen on a big screen!!' You won't ever get me uttering those seven dirty words to any friend of family.

    But a funny thing happened on my way to review heaven, and that funny thing included the newly DVD released true story of two mountain climbers in peril in film Touching the Void.

    Based on the true story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, Touching the Void takes us on an adventure of endurance and the struggle for survival of two young British climbers in the 1980's that attempt to reach the summit of the Siula Grande in Peru. Their hopeful two-day venture is met with catastrophe when Joe accidentally slips and gruesomely breaks his leg and decisions by both men are made that will ultimately seal their fate.

    Sound exciting? You have no idea.

    Directed in a documentary style using the real Joe Simpson and Simon Yates as narrators to actors recreating their ordeal, Touching the Void follows the journey of one man trying to save another from inevitable death only to eventually cut him loose when reality supplants hope.

    Now separated, Simon deals with his demons of leaving a friend to die while the very much alive in spirit, Joe, struggles for days on end with a broken leg to crawl and climb over treacherous terrain to reunite with hopefully still-in-tact base camp.

    As the film is narrated by two of the three participants in the story, is comes as no surprise that Joe survived his weeklong struggle. However, knowing the outcome in no way counters the impact of the ordeal. When Joe starts hallucinating due to the lack of water or has to take one hop at a time over a rocky landscape that leaves him with abrasions and pain that you would almost feel through the screen, you are still met with an edge of your seat tension, rooting for the will of a man to take each day in 20 minute segments of accomplishments in movement.

    What makes Touching the Void so unique and different from other documentaries is the truthfulness of the two leads. They hold back nothing in an attempt not to sugarcoat the horror. Simon talks about thinking about the stories and lies he might tell in order to cover up what was a burdening decision to leave a friend behind. And Joe talks about yelling at Simon in anger and being surprised at how Simon developed a plan to take the two of them down the mountain when an injury of this sort was almost certain death.

    But what really made this film stand out in my memory are the landscape shots of the mountain. Filmed both in Peru and Europe, the mountain's icy crevices and snow-banked cliffs were beautifully photographed and captured by director Kevin MacDonald. When Joe falls into a crevice that would be undeniable death for even a seasoned climber, we are left with a sense of claustrophobia and loneliness that is hard for even the most seasoned of directors to capture.

    The DVD comes with extras that include a short of Joe and Simon reuniting 17 years later to go back to the mountain to relive the experience for the film crew, that is just as honest as the feature presentation. Joe talks of having no feeling whatsoever towards the attempt and wonders why he has agreed to what will be a disappointing emotional response for the director. And when Simon talks about how he and Joe have not remained close after adventure, we are reminded that these are real people with real feelings that survived something that might even have had Job cry 'uncle'.

    So, in a year where documentaries have begun to outperform some mainstream Hollywood films, you can add Touching the Void to the list. Just make sure you see it on a big screen.
  • comment
    • Author: Lanin
    Beautiful scenery and excellent cinematography highlight this true-life story of two young adventurers who, in 1985, attempt to be the first climbers to reach the top of imposing Siula Grande, in Peru. The two actual climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, narrate the story, while two stand-in actors re-enact the climbing.

    A big part of the film is Joe's quest merely to survive, once he becomes separated from Simon. Toward this objective, he calls forth inner strength in the form of two mental processes: first, make a decision and then act on it; second, set small goals or targets. During his ordeal a part of him keeps pushing: "You have to do this, this, and this, if you're going to get there; come on, keep moving, keep moving; right, get up, and do it again".

    In a docudrama like this, acting ability is not that important. What is important is the cinematography. The mountain scenery is spectacular. The camera also captures visual perspective, by backing away from the two climbers, or Joe alone in the second half, to reveal how small and insignificant they are against the towering mountain face, or lost within the vast expanse of a huge glacier, peppered with a maze of dangerous crevasses.

    The story is certainly harrowing. And I admire how Joe kept going, in the face of such adversity. However, I must say that overall I was not impressed with Simpson or Yates, both of whom came across in the film and in the DVD special features as overly ambitious, opportunistic, and egotistical. Joe as much as admits it: "We didn't give a damn about anyone else or anything else, and we just wanted to climb the world ..." This kind of cavalier attitude is not uncommon among participants in extreme sports, many of whom participate less for the adventure than for the opportunity to set records and make money.

    "Touching The Void" is a great story of survival set amid the majestic splendor of the mountains of Peru. The only thing that would have made the story even better is if the two actual climbers had not been so arrogant. Overconfidence, born of an inflated sense of self-importance, almost cost them their lives.
  • comment
    • Author: Xtreem
    The entire cinema was totally captivated and silent right through this film.

    The story, published I the book of the same name has been a legend and must-read within the climbing community for years. Everyone should see this film and learn why, and how far human beings can push themselves.

    The format of documentary with talking heads alternating with re-created action scenes is unusual and works very well. It gives an opportunity for the real life characters to say how they felt in a way that would have been impossible to put over any other way. Both Simon and Joe talk in understated terms of what they went through and the tension builds as they describe some detail and your imagination fills in how you would feel if it had been you, not them.

    The fact the Joe and Simon are talking you through their experience acts as a spoiler. You know they will live. But perhaps without this you'd be bored - knowing they were going to die and just seeing how long it was going to take, just like so many 4th rate straight-to video releases.

    The cinema was more silent than any I've been to in a long time, all the faces were locked to the screen. The film making is amazing, the story is amazing, go and see it now.
  • comment
    • Author: Iriar
    I wish to put my cards on the table and say I am completely unable to understand why someone wants to climb up a twenty thousand foot mountain . I do confess to enjoying hill walking but only if the hills aren't very high , and only if it's a beautiful evening where I can see the golden Summer sunlight shine upon a breathtaking Scottish landscape . I have very little if any sympathy for people who decide it's a great idea to go trekking across the Scottish Highlands in the middle of January and have to use their mobile phone to call out the mountain rescue when they get lost in a blizzard . If it was up to me I'd just leave them there until Spring . This cruel attitude doesn't extend to the protagonists of TOUCHING THE VOID Joe Simpson and Simon Yates since they are very professional in their attitude but the over riding thought while watching this was - Why ? Why ? Why ?

    This is the problem I had with TOUCHING THE VOID , it was rather hyped up as a docu-drama that would appeal to a mainstream audience and not just to people who are interested in mountain climbing . The trailers on Channel 4 that had been running almost non stop for two weeks were the worst culprits . Yes you can enjoy the real life man against the elements adventure but it becomes rather irritating as there's often little explanation to details . For example did Joe or Simon explain why they enjoy yomping about the Andes ? One of them mentions that having a rope tied around climbers can lead to the death of not only someone who falls but also someone who is attached to them . You've seen this happen in movies like THE EIGER SANCTION and VERTICAL LIMIT where someone falls from the rock face taking their companion to their death which always leads me to ask " Why do climbers attach ropes to themselves if that's the case ? " but this is never answered which led me to conclude that the target audience would need a basic knowledge of mountain climbing in order to enjoy TOUCHING THE VOID completely . The trailers also pointed out that this incident totally divided the mountaineering community but again there's little explanation why and we wouldn't have known this at all if a caption hadn't appeared at the end pointing this out . Very disappointingly it never goes into detail about the present day relationship between Joe and Simon . Do they still go drinking together or climb mountains as a two part team ?

    Not to be too negative the docu-drama format is undoubtedly the best medium to tell this type of story , if it'd been filmed as a feature film we'd have had to put up with a couple of Hollywood hunks acting all tough and macho and spending large parts of the movie without any dialogue to explain what was going on . There is some astounding cinematography of the natural beauty of mountain landscapes ( I'm glad I have a widescreen TV ) and get ready for the most bizarre use of a Boney M pop track you will ever see

    I gave TOUCHING THE VOID seven out of Ten . I might have awarded it slightly more but because Channel 4 had been shoving the trailers in our face as to how good it was I ended up being just a little disappointed by it
  • comment
    • Author: Bajinn
    Yes, I said history, with an "H", cause it's not a fictional story. But don't expect some Hollywood phony "based-on-real-events" cliché like "Erin Brockovich", which I hated, by the way. "Touching the Void" could easily air on the Discovery Channel, cause it's more like a re-enactment of the real events than the ordinary movie, with the made up characters to dramatize.

    Said that, don't be fooled: this history doesn't need any script writers to make it interesting. It stands alone.

    Follow the two English climbers to the Andes and you will get a life lesson and an entertaining movie for the price of one, when Simon has to cut off the rope of his still very much alive fellow climber to a hopeless fall, only to find he survived.
  • comment
    • Author: Reighbyra
    Distrustful as I am of all filmmakers' attempts to visualize a full-length book (and Simon's account of Mr. Macdonald didn't help!), I had to give this movie a square ten. Not only does it remain as truthful as possible to the original story (a feat in itself, considering the settings and the plot), it also features some of the most breathtaking scenes I've ever seen on a wide screen.

    It has been debated whether the appearance of Joe and Simon as narrators ruins the suspense somewhat, but my personal opinion is that it only adds to the whole experience - their remarks are witty on some occasions, bloodcurdling on others, and what better way of binding the public to the characters than having them recount a part of the story in person?

    Filmed in the authentic settings, with excellent camera work and a quite innovative approach to documentary movie-making, "Touching the Void" will have you transfixed for the entire 106 minutes of its length, climbers and non-climbers alike.
  • comment
    • Author: Orll
    The 'dramatized documentary' is nothing new (at least in the UK) for TV productions. Indeed the traditional doc is a rare beast these days. Nevertheless, this format is quite novel on film, so it was quite a surprise to observe how successful this work has been.

    As a visual piece, this film really is quite stunning, and I wish I had seen this on the big screen rather than DVD – it is definitely a candidate for transfer to IMAX. It's also a tale of a real superman – forget 'Spiderman' and his CGI ilk. The central character pushed himself to, and way beyond, what should be physically possible.

    But, of course what makes this story so gripping is the matter-of-fact way the two protagonists narrate their adventures. I notice a lot of comments initially think they are actors; such is the lack of enthusiasm from the two mountaineers. But they're British – goddamit! It is the height of bad manners for us to behave in an ungentlemanly way, no matter how bad the situation is.

    As a typical example (some spoilers here); one of the climbers, after badly breaking his leg, falls down a bottomless crevasse, somehow survives, thinks his partner is probably dead and realizes that the only way to survive is to somehow get out of the crevasse and crawl down the mountain unaided with no food and water. He bangs his arm against the icy walls, crying and swearing in frustration. 'I was being very childish', he admonishes himself in the narration. Of course you were…
  • comment
    • Author: Lynnak
    The facts surrounding the events in this film are readily known, so its a surprise that this film commands the emotional power and profundity that it clearly does, particularly since it employs a much overused docudrama format.

    Harrowing and emotionally compelling, this film is a testament to the film maker's choice to be as simple and unflashy as possible with what can only be described as an epic tale of endurance. Not a film about climbing, the film carefully avoids exploration of the reasons why these men climb. The story is about different questions: about what men do, need to do and what they can endure in order to survive.

    The choices which are made defy the imagination's attempt to put oneself in a similar place. One can only marvel at the the emotional and physical peaks which Joe Simpson had to scale in order to crawl down from an enormous, freezing Peruvian mountain with a broken leg for four days without food or water. The reenactments are superb; beautifully shot and dynamically performed.

    The film also places a question in the mind of the viewer regarding Simon Yates' decision to cut the rope attached to Simpson to avoid being dragged over down the mountain himself. (In fact, the question is answered, not just by Simpson, who claims he would do the same thing, but by the film itself, which seems to agree). It's a film about survival, which is an end in itself. At the conclusion of the film, Simpson's ordeal eclipses Yates', but Yates' agony continues a slow burn long after the film is over. It was the right thing to do (I believe), but how does he live with it? Not easily, apparently.

    I was deeply enriched by this film. A powerful, emotionally exhausting and ultimately a positive statement about the capacity for an individual to withstand unfathomable pain and despair, yet still function. The film places this drama quietly within a complex and ambivalent moral question and allows the viewer to find their own way down. The highest recommendation.
  • comment
    • Author: Fordredor
    I saw a special screener of this film from the producer for the Mountain Rescue Association and this movie was well done. Having read the book numerous times and reading the follow up book "This Game of Ghosts" I can tell you Joe Simpson is a great story teller. True mountaineers will appreciate the story and how well it was told (as compared to the last two big Hollywood mountaineering movies). From the detail of the amount of gear they carried to the frightening loneliness of a crevasse this movie was meticulous in it's representation of one of the most inspiring mountaineering stories and epic ordeals of survival. A must see movie for the climber.
  • comment
    • Author: Zaryagan
    I saw this over the weekend and was duly impressed. I had read the book a year ago and therefore was pretty excited to see the movie once I saw the ads. Well, I was not disappointed as the documentary provided a very intriguing descritpion of what happened to Simpson and Yates. Beautiful scenery and intense situations, I definitely recommend this movie!
  • comment
    • Author: Samugul
    I work at a cinema in norwich (UCI) i was checking our listing and saw this film on them, thought what the hell is that!? i asked a friend and he said it was about some climbers, i remember catching a breif review on some tv show ages ago. Being a climber myself i decided to go see it asap. A few guests asked me whether to see Out of Time or this and i said i'd go with this coz it sounds much better. They went into see it, I had a few minutes to kill at work so i went and watched the first 10mins, i really struggled to pull myself away. I was standing at the exit to the screen when the film finished, and i noticed a strange things happen, nobody left till the end of the credits!!! I went and saw it the next day with a few friends. As the trailers rolled i started munching on my bag of chocolates and sipping at my pepsi, then as the film started i just couldn't take my eyes off the screen, the cinematography is amazing (i studied film) the shots are just fantastic, tremendous scenery.

    The film builds up the tension and sheer drama of what they are attempting well. After a while u forget you are watching a documentary and just start watching it like any other film. as the excitement built up i realised i like Joe was frozen still, unable to move i felt his pain and the moment when he has the song in his head just gets right in your head as well and you start to feel sick as well.

    I've never been as moved by a film as i have with touching the void with the exception of Schindler's List. When the film moved i realised i still had most of my chocolate and pepsi left, and everyone around me were just sitting there, me and my mates just slowely got up and walked out of the cinema not saying a word, we were all just so gobsmacked by what we had just witnessed.

    If you get a chance, see ths film, it's one of the best movies i've ever seen. 10/10

    David Wortley
  • comment
    • Author: Beahelm
    I've been a hill-walker and scrambler for a few years and recently got into indoor rock-climbing. After seeing this, I think I may stick to climbing indoors. I've never done any true mountaineering, but I suppose that knowing about the kit and techniques the protagonists were using added to my (already considerable) involvement in the film (for instance I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how on earth I would tie knots with my bare hands in minus 80 degree wind-chill conditions). Also, though I have never come within a fraction of the danger that the two men in this film experienced, the (very, very minor compared to this) sticky-situations I have faced up mountains in bad weather helped me to connect a little more than I maybe would have otherwise.


    I guess it's not a spoiler to say that the end of the film is always known. It's based on the best-selling book by one of the climbers and we start the film with him talking, so it's pretty evident that he is going to survive. I knew the story in advance as well, though I haven't read the book (must do that now). Anyway, knowing that both men survive in advance in no way dampens the suspense of the film. I found myself truly scared at points and staggered at what the two were attempting, even before things started to go wrong.

    I doubt that I'll ever stand on the top of an Andean peak, but I got some sense of both the grinding effort involved and the immensity of the achievement of being the first people to climb a mountain. Both men were heroes before anything went wrong - what happened next propelled them into the super-hero category. However one of the more touching things is that neither man seems to see himself that way.

    I won't go too much into the twists and turns of the plot, rather I'll say that it was beautifully filmed, giving a real sense of the forces of nature and the immensity of the mountain compared to the two climbers. The level of realism in the re-enactments was impressive - I would think that non-climbers (and I'm only really a pseudo-climber) would be able to appreciate the mental and physical toughness involved. The way that interviews were inter-cut with the action was extremely well done, nothing felt forced or contrived about this, it just flowed. The level of emotion was incredible, as much as anything because the climbers were so controlled and even calm in their recollections. This meant that Joe Simpson's eyes watering on a couple of occasions hit you like a hammer blow - it was gut wrenching to see that 18 years later he still has a part of himself out on the slopes of Siula Grande.

    It would have been very easy for the filmmaker to teeter over into either sensationalism or over sentimentality (and knowing that Tom Cruise has the rights to make a [non-documentary] film of this fills me with some dread), but the film never did this. The restraint of the director left room for the emotions and achievements of the people involved to fill both the screen and the hearts and minds of the audience.

    I suppose I have talked a lot about emotions and it is a very emotional film. However, I should repeat that it is also very scary. I was literally on the edge of my seat for much of it (stressing once again that I knew the story in advance). I can't ever recall so many gasps in a film. There were some hard-core climbers sitting behind me and at times they seemed to be carried away by what they were watching, being reduced to whispering heartfelt expletives at various points, no doubt extrapolating from their own experiences.

    I suppose much of what I have said above suggests that this is a film just for outdoor enthusiasts. While I think that having some experience of the areas involved will add greatly to the experience (and from what I saw, half of the audience were wearing North Face fleeces!), much of the film would move anyone who has never left the safety of their own armchair. A lot of it deals with the vastness, beauty, power and cruelty of nature and how, even in the face of this, certain special individuals can exhibit the indomitable qualities that are needed to overcome the longest of odds. It's a very humbling film.

    Go see this if you are a climber, but also if you are interested in the human condition. You won't be disappointed in either case.

    A fabulous film - 10 / 10 for me.
  • comment
    • Author: Cordaron
    For once a high rating on this site is justified. I never thought I'd see the day... Ironically, it takes a semi-documentary to pull off this unbelievable feat, i.e. not a real motion picture. Even the prolifics love it, and they usually prefer products of inferior quality.

    I can't recall the last time a movie had me this transfixed onto the screen as this documentary. Following the story of two masochistic lunatics very nearly lose their lives was simply riveting. I've always considered mountain-climbers to be somewhat insane - and TTV did nothing to dispel that notion. I've seen my fair share of amazing survival stories, like the Italian marathon runner who survived a week in the African desert, but this Joe Simpson dragging his damn broken leg several kilometers down a rocky, snowy mountain in the middle of nowhere may just have topped them all.

    The acting is very good, the scenery terrific, the facial make-up far better/more realistic than in most horror films, and the use of music just right; the soundtrack was applied when necessary, and totally shut off for maximum effect when that was more appropriate. The only annoyance is the ever-grinning face of Richard Hawkins, as he gleefully explains how he stood and did nothing when he heard the first cries for help from Joe. What a useless man!

    There are people who saw this and complained that it was dull, that there wasn't enough action(!), that one can see this sort of thing every day on the "Discovery Channel, "National Geographic", la-di-da... People who fail to understand these sorts of stories are already mentally dead. Ironically, it is they who urgently need to get this type of struggle-for-survival experience under their pathetic belts, so as to wake up from their cozy slumber, induced by years of physical apathy, which inevitably leads to mental stupor.

    Some believers might not particularly enjoy that scene in which Joe realizes that praying to a non-existing God confirmed his suspicions that he was, indeed, a full-fledged atheist, and that no damn angels are making any plans to help him. I am sick and tired of the old cliché regarding the atheist who becomes a believer when his life is in danger. Hogwash.
  • Cast overview:
    Brendan Mackey Brendan Mackey - Joe Simpson
    Nicholas Aaron Nicholas Aaron - Simon Yates
    Richard Hawking Richard Hawking - Himself
    Joe Simpson Joe Simpson - Himself
    Simon Yates Simon Yates - Himself
    Ollie Ryall Ollie Ryall - Richard Hawking
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