Touching the Void

July 3, 2007 at 4:12 am (Uncategorized)

Last night Llew and I finally watched Touching the Void, the film based on Joe Simpson’s book of the same name, which tells the story of his nightmarish experience as a 25 year old climber tackling the hostile western face of the Siula Grande mountain in the Peruvian Andes, with his climbing partner Simon Yates. Have you seen this movie or read this book? If not, all I can say is you really must do yourself a favour and get hold of one or the other. Having watched Joe speak throughout the doco, I have no doubt his writing would be as compelling as having someone reconstructing his experience manages to be on film.

I had actually been meaning to watch the film since it was released in 2003 (is that right?), but for some reason it just didn’t happen until last night. We were talking about it only last week – I have no idea why – and then as I browsed the ‘staff recommendations’ at the DVD store last night, there it was. The only thing that left me feeling totally dissatisfied was the lack of special features, because if ever there was a DVD that should have included reams and reams of bonus material, it was this one.

I can’t tell you how affecting Joe Simpson’s clarity of expression is – you really have to hear or read his descriptions for yourself. In the film, he has a very spare, unadorned form of articulation that has the effect of bringing the viewer right into the eye of his terror and humanity as he battles to stay alive and descend the treacherous, always deadly mountain – alone and with a shattered leg – over a period of 5 days (after 2 days spent on the ascent). His frank storytelling is incredibly evocative and powerful.

The bit I lay awake thinking about all night last night I don’t want to tell you about simply because I don’t want to ruin it for you. I hadn’t known it was coming and I still can’t get over his response to the situation he found himself in. He took a decision that undoubtedly helped save his life, but it’s one of those totally unthinkable decisions where you really can’t imagine what kind of crazy courage was required for him to make it. Gob-smacked is the understatement of the year – I was (and I am not easily) awed. Absolutely awestruck.

I won’t ruin it for you by telling you more, I’ll simply say that Joe Simpson’s manner of telling his story is just as affecting as the story he tells. It’s a combination that gave me a serious bout of insomnia last night as I replayed the whole thing in my by then utterly fevered mind.

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