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Touching the Void

The closer you are to death. The more you realize you are alive. 

Year: 2003 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: Unknown 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from Touching the Void

It seems particularly ironic that in a year of big budget horror movies and high profile thrillers, the most terrifying and exhilarating movie thus far is a low budget docu-drama about two blokes on a mountain. But, of course, it’s not just any mountain, and theirs is not just any story – what Touching the Void is is a masterpiece of subjective documentation and the depiction of human endurance, spread across a canvas of intense dread and implacable nature.

Simon Yates and Joe Simpson were two fanatic climbers back in 1985 when they decided to attempt to scale the notoriously unclimbable west face of the Siula Grande Mountain in the heart of the perilous Andes. While their ascent was surprisingly unproblematic, it seems that the term “Pete Tong” might’ve been coined specifically for their eventful descent. With one of them rendered almost immobile by a sharp fall, and with bad weather and bad navigation playing havoc with their minds, how could they possibly return home alive?

Touching the Void places its cards squarely on the table from the start by allowing the two climbers to narrate their story to the camera as actors portray the events that almost destroyed their lives 18 years ago. This, however, takes nothing away from the sheer impossibility of the situation that the two find themselves in as they battle for their lives with little hope of victory. As the two friends give their accounts of the horrors they faced on the mountain, we can but wonder at the resilience of the human mind and body that allowed them to survive – it makes getting through exam time look like scaling a climbing frame.

Kevin MacDonald avoids anything even approaching sentimentality, and similarly eschews bestowing any blame or responsibility upon his feckless subjects. Instead, he concentrates on telling one hell of a story, juxtaposing dizzying spectacle with quiet moments of introspection and self-valuation. Touching the Void is action cinema on both a grand, and inherently tiny scale, and a film that simply demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Greg Taylor

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Screenings of this film:

2003/2004 Summer Term (35mm)
2003/2004 Summer Term (35mm)