When mountaineers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates climbed Peru’s 21,000 foot Siula Grande in 1985, disaster struck when Simpson broke his leg and the rope between him and his partner became a literal lifeline. After unknowingly lowering Simpson over the edge of a crevasse, Yates was forced to cut their lifeline at the risk of both of them plummeting to their deaths. Director Kevin Macdonald, who won an Oscar for 2000’s One Day in September, intercuts interview footage of Simpson and Yates with a simulation of their horrifying experience. Touching the Void is a problematic experiment but an impressive one nonetheless. Actors Brendan Mackey and Nicholas Aaron star as Simpson and Yates, respectively, but their performances do not necessarily cast a disingenuous shadow over the docu-drama (at least not a compromising one), because Macdonald successfully preserves the illusion of documentary by having the actors say very little to each other. Macdonald evokes a complementary image for every horrifying recollection, and if you refuse to buy Mackey and Aaron as Simpson and Yates, there’s no mistaking the authenticity of the film’s non-human entity. Since Macdonald and his crew shot most of the film on location in the Peruvian Andes, there’s an overwhelming sense here that we’re watching the same monster that nearly killed Simpson and Yates almost 20 years ago. Mike Eley’s photography is outstanding—what with all the wind and snow dancing off its peak, the Siula Grande is not unlike a beast with white hair whose fragile network of meringues and mushrooms are the veins Simpson and Yates must tap into in order to climb its torso. If Macdonald seems uninterested in dealing with the public fallback of the mountaineers’ experience, that’s because the walking-on-eggshells existentialism that pits Siula Grande against the atheistic Simpson is the director’s afterlife of choice.
- Kevin Macdonald
- Nicholas Aaron, Brendan Mackey, Joe Simpson, Simon Yates, Richard Hawking, Ollie Ryall
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