I’ve had friends who were serious climbers. I’ve read a lot of books about extreme mountaineering. I thought I knew enough to know that I was never going to climb anything taller than the stairs of the library. Now, after watching Touching the Void, I’m more certain than ever that I am meant to be earthbound.
That said, this is one of the best documentaries, and best films, I have ever seen.
And the way it is shot is absolutely breathtaking and brilliant. Wow, this is getting gushy.
Without giving too much away, here’s the gist:
Two young climbers decide that they’re going to be the first to reach the summit of Siula Grande, a monstrous mountain in the Peruvian Andes.
At the very beginning, we meet the two actual climbers. They take turns narrating the story of their climb from the safety of present day. So we know they both survived.
The story of the climb itself is shot on location at Siula Grande. We see actors reenacting the climb, and according to IMDB, Simon and Joe, the actual climbers, are shown in some of the long distance shots.
To put it mildly, things don’t go very well for them. Once things start falling apart, it gets worse and worse. And worse times one million.
This is what makes it so much more than a normal documentary, which still would have been great, given the incredible story: you see the actual survivors giving the sequence of events, but they don’t tell you how they survived. Then it cuts back to the actual climbing and you think, “How on earth is he/they going to get out of this?”
If I hadn’t known they were going to live, I think the movie would have been emotionally unbearable. It is relentlessly nerve- wracking. And after everything that they go through–and one of them in particular–having it end with their deaths would have been a hideous way to spend 90 minutes. Feeling greatly relieved 90 seconds into a movie was very interesting.
I’m not going to say anything else about the story.
This is one of the most powerful, moving, beautifully shot movies I’ve ever seen. And I’m going to take great care never to wind up at the bottom of an eerie crevasse. Climbing must be an experience that cannot be compared to anything else, but I’ll stay on the couch.
About those books: if you like climbing, you’ve probably already heard of Mark Twight. His book Kiss or Kill is wonderful. Into Thin Air is another that I love.
And now I see that there’s a book of Touching the Void as well. Guess I’ll have to go read it.