Touching the Void

dir. Macdonald

Opens Fri Feb 6

Cinema 21

The biggest misconception about Touching the Void is that it is a climbing movie. Granted, the film is about two ice climbers who summit the west face of the Siula Grande in Peru. But it's about climbing as much as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a movie about riding horses. Instead, at its core, Touching the Void is a buddy movie.

Touching the Void is based on a climbing mishap in 1985. Joe Simpson and Simon Yates were the first climbers to summit the snow-whipped peak in Peru. But on their retreat down the icy and nearly vertical slopes, Joe falls and jams his shinbone into his femur. Yeah. YOUCH!

The film is based on the book that Joe wrote, so telling you that the climbers both survive doesn't spoil any tension. During the film, both climbers narrate their experiences as director Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September) re-enacts the climb and accident in such epic and breathtaking cinematography that even Ansel Adams would be envious.

Unable to walk, Joe is as good as dead. Still, the two climbers rig up a pulley system by which Simon can lower Joe down the mountain's face. But this plan unravels when Joe slides off the edge of an ice cliff and is left dangling. To make matters worse, it is a blinding snowstorm, and Simon can neither see nor hear what is happening. For all he knows, Joe is dead. But anchored down, he can't move to check out what's going on.

He is faced with the question: Does he save his own life and ditch his friend? He also must ask: Is my life more important than my companion's? After several hours, Simon decides to cut the rope and save himself.

The story about the climbers itself is remarkable, but that does not guarantee a heart-thumping story. It is what director Macdonald does with his material that brings a sharp edge of urgency to the film. Cleverly texturing the film with sublime scenery, mini-dramas and ethical crises, director Macdonald pulls us onto the mountain face, breaks our leg, and leaves us to escape.