Thursday, October 4, 2012

30 in 30 - Day 3: Touching The Void

Tonight's documentary was less about sport and more about survival.  That said, I have had this title on my list of "ones to watch" for a while now and I'm glad I finally watched it.

Tonight's film - Touching The Void

Touching The Void (2003)
106 mins.
Rated: R (some profane language)

"The true story of two climbers and their perilous journey up the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985."  (source: imdb)

Link to the film - I watched it online via Youtube

This film is unlike a lot of documentaries I've watched over the years.  Because of the content and story, the entire film was made with re-enactments.  Actors playing the roles of the climbers.  Yes the climbers themselves do the talking and they are shown numerous times on screen (talking directly to the camera), but there is no footage of the actual event - hence the need to re-create it.

While I didn't mind the technique in this instance, I am normally not a fan of re-creating events for documentary purposes...I much rather see the actual footage or be shown authentic photos.

Anyways, on to the film itself.

The premise is very simple.  Three people - two climbers and one setting up camp at the bottom of Siula Grande is the setting for an amazing story of survival.  Joe Simpson and Simon Yates decide they will do something that (until then) had never been accomplished - climb Siula Grande in Peru.  We are taken through this adventure in diary-like fashion.

Day one shows the energy, passion, exhilaration and success these two have on their daunting journey.  It is fast paced and sets up for what's to come.

Day two reveals the long haul the pair are indeed in for.  Wind, snow, blinding white-out conditions...all very well filmed and shown on screen.  I felt more invested in the story as time went on.  Because this film was over an hour-and-a-half long, they were able to let sections like these breathe and get the viewer drawn in more.

Day three and a false sense of success.  While they reach the summit, it is quickly mentioned that 80% of accidents occur on the descent.  Foreshadowing?  For sure.

The visuals are dizzying at times and really aid in the overall feeling of the moment.  You know something is going to happen - it's just a matter of when.

As the two start their descent, another white-out causes them to lose their direction.  They also lose the remaining gas they had to provide heat  as that evening came and went.  They only expected to be on the mountain for three days.  Now heading into day four, it was critical that they not lose focus of the end goal.

Day four is where things go sour.  Joe injures himself - seriously.  To the point where it jeopardizes the descent and ultimately the lives of both of them.  The process of lowering themselves down the mountain (at a frustratingly slow pace) makes me wonder when things will come to a head.  The tense moments and inner realizations of survival were clearly evident.

Ultimately, (and I'm trying not to give too much away) a decision is made that drastically affects both climbers.  One has the fortune of making it down the mountain while the other is essentially left for dead.

Day five is a day of realization.  The scope of what happened - and what has to happen is at the forefront.  Pain - both physically and emotionally is very evident both in the re-creations on screen and by the words spoken. You can hear the emotion and inner struggle to understand what has happened.

Day six is all about survival and pushing ones self to the ultimate limits.  How much can a person endure?  How much can a person push on?  It was very tense to watch and I was very anxious to see what would happen next.

Day seven is the final act of the play so to speak.  We see the conclusion of the hour and a half buildup.  It is an amazing ending to an incredible story.

Again, without giving too much away, I feel that I need to express some of the shortcomings of the film.

First and foremost, it is evident quite early on that both climbers are going to live.  Why?  Well because they are both giving interviews after the fact.  As the days went on, it was less about what's going to happen and more about WHEN it's going to happen.  That was a bit of a downer for me, but I don't know how you would get around that.

The end of the film and the pivotal moment of reconnection (while very gratifying and positive) left me wanting to know more about the aftermath.  What happened to the pair?  What kind of condition were they in?  Yes, there was some text to explain, but it was very little - and not satisfying at all.

When I first started watching, I was thinking to myself - "Boy this is going to be a long doc".  But after about 30 minutes I became really invested in the film.  I started feeling very isolated and engrossed in the challenges the climbers endured.  A half-hour or even an hour long doc would not have given the story the proper breath needed to draw the viewer in.

In fact, the story drew me in so much that it took me about an hour to really snap out of it.  I watched the film by myself and felt very uneasy after doing so.  In addition, it was dark out by the end of it and that really made me uncomfortable and in need of getting out and connecting with the real world again.  The film did an excellent job of drawing me into the story and investing in the characters.

Was it  an amazing sports doc?  It was good - very good actually.  But it didn't feel like a sports doc at all.  It was more a story about human spirit, survival and the lengths people will go to live.  From that view it had me on the edge of my seat.

While it won't be the favourite doc on my list, it was one that I'm glad I watched.

3 out of 5

Here are some other reviews I found online for the film...

Rotten Tomatoes

Roger Ebert

Reel Views

Next up...Sir Bobby Charlton


  1. Interesting...might give this one a watch, thanks Brett!

  2. I thought it was very well done considering all they had was 2 interviews. Re-creations were done extremely well. Basically like watching a hollywood movie, rather than a 'crimestoppers' type of deal if you know what I mean. Very intriguing and engaging story. True, you knew they both lived, but HOW they both lived was the real story. I knew all about Magic & Bird, but still enjoyed that doc. :-)

    I liked it more than Murderball, so I'd have to give it a 3.5, I guess. Maybe you should go to a 10 point scale! You're going to have a lot of 3/5s! :-D

    1. Having two people talk for basically 90 mins. - and being completely engrossed by pretty amazing. It was very well done.

      In a million tries, you'd never be able to duplicate that story. It's just that unbelievable.

      No 10 point scale for me. Too many numbers. bugs you. :)