Peak of the devil
"Touching the Void" gives a mostly thrilling look at two climbers' desperate attempt to survive the unconquerable and unforgiving Peruvian mountain Siula Grande.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
At the point of human breaking, when hypothermia-induced delirium kicks in, the mind does a funny thing according to British mountaineer Joe Simpson, one of the subjects of the sensational new docudrama "Touching the Void," based on his 1998 best seller. While one side of the brain continues to respond to sensory inputs and stimuli the clouds coming in, water bubbling beneath rocks, seismic shifts in temperature, etc. the other hemisphere coldly and pragmatically tricks the body into pushing on against the odds when all reasonable hope of survival has passed.
In the case of Simpson (who, with a ruptured right leg, had all but given up hope of making it off Peru's Siula Grande alive), his mind suddenly became swamped with the infuriatingly infectious disco ditty "Brown Girl in the Ring" and it was, perhaps, the driving force in a long string of driving forces that pushed him beyond the limits of human endurance.
|TOUCHING THE VOID|
|Directed by: Kevin Macdonald.|
Adapted from the book by: Joe Simpson.
Featuring: Nicholas Aaron, Richard Hawking, Brendan Mackey, Joe Simpson, Simon Yates.
Cinematography: Mike Eley, Keith Partridge.
Edited by: Justine Wright.
Music by: Alex Heffes, Bevan Smith.
Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
"Bloody hell," Simpson recollects with a combination of horror and amusement. "I'm going to die to Boney M!"
Kevin Macdonald's film, part documentary, part dramatic re-enactment, chronicles the near-tragic 1985 attempt by Simpson and his climbing companion Simon Yates to scale the perilous west face of the 21,000-foot Peruvian mountain, a feat attempted without success before or after. Unlike virtually every other Hollywood product, "Touching the Void" does not directly announce itself as "based on a true story" but part of the film's power is that this remarkable tale of survival is incredibly and (thanks to Macdonald's consummate skill as a director) vividly real.
"Touching the Void" is a fascinating mix of talking heads the real-life Simpson and Yates painfully detailing their death-defying experiences punctuated by honesty and quirky British-isms coupled with non-speaking actors Brendan Mackey and Nicholas Aaron cramping around in crampons, chipping away with ice axes, and abseiling down ropes no thicker than your little finger.|
Simpson, then 25, and Yates, an equally experienced climber four years his junior, attempted to scale the Andean giant Alpine-style, i.e., "in one push," with no pre-established rope guides or series of base camps, no possible chance of rescue if anything went wrong, just them against the cold mountain, leanly packed with equipment, food, and fervent determination. They make remarkable progress, reaching 20,000 feet rather more easily than either of them had anticipated, relatively speaking. But the last 1,000 feet proves to be the hardest climbing of their lives, as the two friends battle minus-80-degree wind chills and treacherous, physics-defying flutes of powdered snow channeling down from the overhanging mushrooms, meringues, and cornices of the spectacular north ridge.
Their climb onto that ridge, and off the west face, is strangely anticlimactic since, as we come to learn, 80 percent of accidents happen on the way down. "If you get injured up there, you're stuffed." How the two men, particularly Simpson, struggle to dismiss that resignation is what makes the film so compelling.|
Expertly shot and edited, "Touching the Void" is a breathtaking experience that engages all of our emotions awe, sympathy, fear, disbelief. It's truly a great film, one that puts a human face on adventure by starkly dramatizing the power of man's indefatigable resolve.
|MARCH 24, 2004|
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touching from Susan Wilson, Jan 13, 2005
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