A review of “Touching the Void” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ****

Rating: Unrated, but should be PG-13 for intensity

Run Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes



Director Kevin Macdonald won an Oscar for his riveting documentary One Day in September, the story of the thwarted Munich Olympics.  No wonder that his dramatic re-telling of a pair of tragic mountaineers who lived to tell the tale is rife with tension, emotion, and pathos.

For mountain climbers, ascending the world’s highest peaks is their lifeblood, a natural high so powerful that climbers regularly risk life and limb to clamber to the heavens and back down again. Removed from the clutter and humdrum-ness of everyday living, climbing is the ultimate rush.

In 1985, experienced British climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates ventured to South America to climb the 21,000 foot Siula Grande – the only Peruvian Andes pinnacle yet to be conquered.

With egos and confidence fully in check, Simpson and Yates determined to climb Siula Grande Alpine style; one push to the top, with no line of retreat in the form of base camps or emergency helicopters.  No mistakes permitted, no room for error.

A lofty goal, and a potentially perilous one considering the volatile weather and the precariously steep slopes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, tragedy struck three days into the challenging climb.  Simpson fell and broke his lower leg, the impact driving the splintered bone straight up into his kneecap and rendering him instantly crippled.

Trapped at high altitudes with little food or water, the accident tolled a death knell.  The credo of good climbers worldwide is to stick with a partner through thick and thin, so the only logical (albeit improbable) choice was to try to lower Simpson off the mountain.  With two 150 foot lengths of rope between them, Yates was able to lower Simpson three hundred painstaking feet at a time, ultimately plunging him (unbeknownst to Yates) over the edge of a sheer vertical crevasse.

While Yates held on for dear life he felt his muscle strength slowly give way. A decision was laid before him: continue to hold on and plummet both men over the edge of the cliff, or do the unthinkable and cut the rope to save his own neck.

How to describe a sensation born of palpable fear and social pressure, compounded by air so thin that brain damage is inevitable?  How to put a life into perspective when faced with your own certain death?

Void is the kind of cinema that gives stressful a fresh meaning.  Fraught with tension and nerve-wracking delirium, this innovative doc (based on the non-fictional best seller of the same name) is a powerful life-force in the guise of an adventure package. 

Simpson’s and Yates’ talking heads are edited together with startlingly real re-enactments of the actual event; a painful, tedious journey of excruciating pain and the unyielding will to live.