In September 2010, Outside magazine compiled a list of the 25 best adventure, investigative and nature documentary movies of all time, and close to the top of that list was a movie that I’ve wanted to watch for a long time, 2003’s “Touching the Void.” I’d heard a ton about this mountaineering movie over the years, but had never taken the time to watch it from start to finish. For that reason, I officially put it on my “bucket list” several years ago and finally took the time to watch it on Sunday.
For those of you unfamiliar with “Touching the Void,” it’s a British documentary film that was released on Sept. 5, 2003. Based on the 1988 book, “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson, it’s about the amazing, real life story of Simpson’s struggle to survive a horrific mountaineering accident in Peru in 1985. Directed by Kevin MacDonald, the movie features Simpson, his partner Simon Yates, and actors Nicholas Aaron, Brendan Mackey and Ollie Ryall.
The events in the book and the movie took play in 1985 when Simpson and Yates successfully climbed Siula Grande, a 20,813-foot mountain in the Andes. Both made it to the top, but disaster struck on the way down when Simpson broke his leg and then plummeted into a seemingly bottomless chasm. Yates made his way down, nearly dying himself, and Simpson survived after a superhuman effort to escape the chasm and climb down to basecamp.
As mentioned, you’ll find this outstanding documentary on more than a few “best of” lists. Outside ranked it No. 3 on its list of best documentaries, a list they called the “Outside Documentary Canon.” In 2012, PBS ranked “Touching the Void” at No. 62 on its list of “100 Greatest Documentaries.”
Thanks to Netflix, my son and I watched “Touching the Void” from start to finish on Sunday night. I’d seen bits and pieces of this movie over the years, but never the whole thing from start to finish. Even though I pretty much knew how it was going to turn out, this movie still put us on the edge of our seats, and I thought that it more than lived up to its reputation as one of the greatest adventure documentaries of all time.
Of course, now that I’ve seen the movie, I’m left wanting to read the book, which is considered a classic in the mountaineering and adventure book genres. You’ll also find this book on a number of “best of” lists, including a No. 69 ranking on National Geographic’s list of “100 Best Adventure Books.” It was also included on lists published by Easton Press and The Art of Manliness. I’ve actually got this book on my “bucket list,” and I may try to read it sometime next month.
In the end, how many of you have watched “Touching the Void”? What did you think about it? What similar movies would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.