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Touching the Void


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#1 Overstreet

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Posted 14 January 2004 - 07:30 PM

After reading this review by Anthony Lane, I am now officially excited about 2004. Sounds like Touching the Void is far more thrilling than its preview suggests. And (yes I know, this is being discussed in another thread) Crimson Gold sounds fantastic as well.

I'm champing at the bit. Bring me these films!!

#2 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 22 February 2004 - 02:23 AM

Hmmm, too bad you didn't copy-and-paste that review, Jeff -- I wouldn't mind seeing what it had said, now that I have seen the film.

Two things jumped out at me while watching this flick.

First, the introductory remark that some people climb mountains because life has become too safe and these people want to bring back an element of "risk". I was reminded, of all things, of Timothy Ware's remark in The Orthodox Church that the conversion of the Roman Empire brought an end to martyrdom, but now that it was too easy to be a Christian, many Christians opted to withdraw from society -- and thus monasticism was born.

Second, the way the one guy recalls being raised Catholic and leaving the church and wondering if he would ever find himself saying "Hail Marys" if he ever got into a bit of a jam. When he DID get into the jam depicted here, he found he had no urge to do those things. He realized he really WASN'T a believer. Interesting, that he should have doubted his doubts up until that moment. And given how convinced he was at several points that he was going to die, I can't help wondering if he would have fought so well to survive if he had believed in a life beyond this one.

#3 Persona

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Posted 22 February 2004 - 08:41 PM

QUOTE
And given how convinced he was at several points that he was going to die, I can't help wondering if he would have fought so well to survive if he had believed in a life beyond this one.


That is a great point, Peter.

I do remember him saying that the reason he fought so hard to live was that he didn't want to die alone. So you have this slightly uncaring person who didn't believe in God or the afterlife paradoxically clinging to life for the want of someone to be close to him.

-s.

Edited by stef, 29 September 2004 - 09:31 AM.


#4 SDG

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Posted 15 April 2004 - 02:02 PM

Has anyone but Peter and Stef finally seen this? I saw it some weeks back, and I've been mulling it over ever since. I think I'll finally write it up tonight, if I can.

A few thoughts: First, this is the best survival story I can think of, offhand. What I enjoyed about Cast Away and Alive is here in spades, and then some. (Anyone want to nominate any other contenders?)

Remember how Alive made timid use of a scrap or two of pseudo-documentary survivor interview footage, with John Malkovich playing one of the survivors later in life? It didn't really work there, but here, with genuine interview footage with the real survivors as a major structural aspect of the film, it works really well. And the actors playing the two climbers really become the characters over the course of the film. I totally bought into both versions of the story.

The only thing I kinda sorta thought didn't really work was toward the very end when the filmmakers attempt to suggest Joe's disoriented state with some showy cinematography. It was distracting and artificial to me, though I understand why they tried to do it.

The movie doesn't make a big deal about the spiritual aspect of Joe's experience, but it's certainly one of the most memorable aspects of the film. Like Tom Hanks' character in Cast Away, and unlike, say, Robinson Crusoe, Joe doesn't find God in his hour of desperation. Obviously the proverb about no atheists in foxholes is an oversimplification; it might be closer to the truth to say there are no wafflers in foxholes. Death is a mirror in which perhaps a man sees his true face... or perhaps sees that he has no face after all.

It's also worth noting that it isn't only God that Joe doesn't find in his crevasse, or in his heart. What he thinks may be his last hours are not spent on thoughts of Mom, Dad, sweetheart, etc. Emotionally, he's completely alone. Interestingly, it's this sense of aloneness -- and more specifically Joe's unwillingness to die alone -- that really pushes Joe past all reason to keep on keeping on and get himself down the mountain. He doesn't think he will survive, but he doesn't want to be alone when he dies.

And my gosh, the landscapes. I've never seen snow on a mountain like that before. There was something almost extravagant about it -- like some kind of elaborate confectionary dessert heaped with mounds of impossibly detailed icing work, or something. I mean, as a cinematographer you just couldn't go wrong with landscaping like that -- although the cinematography actually was brilliant and made spectacular use of the landscape.

#5 Jason Bortz

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Posted 15 April 2004 - 05:57 PM

I saw this about a month ago and yes, I found myself white knuckled at times. The actors did an amazing job of capturing the storytellers' emotions--particularly when Joe goes over the edge and can do nothing but look up at (I keep wanting to call him Wallace) his climbing partner Simon's face and wordlessly conveys he's broken his leg at 20,000 feet.

I kept marveling at the cinematography--though I agree, the effects toward the end were a bit much--and thinking to myself my GOD, they took a CAMERA and CREW up there for this re-enactment...sweet jumping horseyfats, that's insane!

My friend climbed near there, actually has photos of Siula Grande's face (which they masterfully CGI'd our climbers onto but, impressively, quite sparingly) and it's breathtaking even in pictures. I cannot imagine scaling it, much less descending it in the manner Simpson did. My frend states that Simpson's book is in every serious climber's library, and that the accounting of the harrowing tale is not so fantastical as it is close to home; ledges, cravasses, white-outs, storms, frostbite and broken limbs are an ever present spectre and actually prepared for to the best of ability.

All from simply climbing a large chunk of rock.

I'd like to add that the sound score and sound editing was among the best I've seen for any film--the creators should be quite proud of their work. Very well done.

#6 opus

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Posted 15 April 2004 - 06:06 PM

This is coming to the university theatre here in Lincoln at the end of April, along with Lost Boys Of Sudan, and after Bus 174 and Osama. Needless to say, I'm pretty stoked for the next few weeks.

#7 Jeff Kolb

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Posted 20 April 2004 - 09:38 PM

Apart from being a fine documentary, Touching the Void does a pretty good job of highlighting some of the strange quirks/maladies that one finds in the climbing community. The desperation, the single-mindedness, the frightfully cold detachment...this IS the stuff of expeditions. This is what allows people to make such insane achievements. The film provides an extreme distillation of the individual...something we on the ground rarely experience.

#8 Diane

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 09:28 AM

This is a very early announcement, but I caught a preview of this last night on PBS; they're showing it in November.

QUOTE
TOUCHING THE VOID
Sunday, November 21, 2004 (check local listings)
Based on the international best-seller by renowned climber Joe Simpson, this film recounts the climb Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, undertook to scale the hitherto unclimbed west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. On their descent, Simpson fell and shattered his leg, launching a heroic battle for survival.


More info on the film is here.

I've never seen the film, so I'm going to try to catch this. After reading what some of you have said and hearing etpetra talk about this a couple of weeks ago, I'm intrigued. Now, let's just hope it's not running during one of PBS's pledge drives. Can you imagine this film being interrupted several times for those 20-minute-long pledge breaks? angry.gif

#9 Christian

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 10:15 AM

Itís on PBS next week? Sheesh. Oh wellóI donít regret watching it this past weekend. Tremendous film. I didnít have time to watch the DVD documentary, but I have several questions about how they filmed the re-enactments, and those massive, lonely shots of a sole hiker in the middle of freakiní nowhere. That couldnít have been easy to set up, all for the sake of a dramatic re-enactment.

spoilers1.gif

And yes, the bit about the stranded hikerís self-examination and absence of faith was extraordinary. It comes at the halfway mark, or just past it, well past the time I was screaming (in my head) the question, ďDonít these people ever think about God?Ē The answer, in the one hikerís case, was eerie but honest.

I should add that, later in the film, when the guy down at the camp recounts waking in the middle of the night to hear the stranded hiker, I was expecting some sort of pointer that his awaking might have been divinely ordained, or something. I think it was, but Iím glad the film didnít dictate that to the viewer.


#10 goneganesh

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Posted 27 April 2005 - 10:27 AM

Having just seen this again -- I think that this is, accidentally perhaps, one of those profound stories that gives you a little more each time you go back to it.

What occurred to me this time is that this is something ol' Bresson would have loved. It contains many of his hallmarks:

A simple, dynamic "pure cinema" experience.

The elliptical, but tangible presence of God. Two God-haunted men.

Despair, Pride, Love, and possibly Betrayal.

More than once I thought of "A Man Escaped".

Minute actions that mean everything.


#11 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 27 April 2005 - 11:24 AM

goneganesh wrote:
: The elliptical, but tangible presence of God.

Explain.

#12 goneganesh

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Posted 27 April 2005 - 11:45 PM

Briefly, I think what I meant is that there is a psychological component peculiar to mountain climbing -- it is not just any old dangerous activity...you are trying to storm heaven!

I note that Mystics and Hermits are drawn to mountains and deserts -- it is easier to transcend the world there. Ararat and Sinai.

In their search for this transcendental experience they also must deal with any number of accidents, call it nature, fate or something else. They must be open to a kind of dialogue with something larger than themselves. At the end of the day, thay may believe they have won the argument, but who are they talking to..?

So, despite the defensive atheism and self-reliance of the climbers, there is a feeling that they do protest too much.

Simpson should have died there among the rocks. The other man should have left.

What happened, really?

Anyway, I'll think about this some more, and post more later.



#13 SDG

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Posted 28 April 2005 - 09:04 AM

I think Goneganash is on to something. It's also worth noting that Joe's sense of cosmic aloneness isn't always absolute -- after escaping from the crevasse he comes to a point where the cosmic void does seem occupied, though to him it seems precisely the opposite of benevolent providence -- a "malign presence out to get you -- like somebody teasing an ant... they're eventually going to step on." And Simon has a foreboding of "retribution" for Joe's fall, and fears he's fated never to leave the mountain alive.

Joe and Simon don't discover God on the mountain. But neither do they quite escape Him, I think. Joe finds that he disbelieves, but if nothing else his disbelief has significance for him. That God is not out there for him, even when the chips are down, is a fact worth contemplating and discussing. God isn't just unreal for Joe, he is emphatically absent -- his nonexistence leaves an unmistakeable void, an existential nothingness. And that void doesn't stay completely empty. The absence of God becomes the abode of something else.

As long as people are still struggling with meaning, I think, they haven't escaped God. The only atheistic posture that has ever made sense to me is that of moral nihilism, the view that morality and meaning are only phantom projections of our own nervous affections, and that "This is bad and that is good" means no more than "Boo this! Hurrah that!" Joe and Simon don't face death and unbelief and guilt like moral nihilists. They don't find God on the mountain, but like Goneganash I seem to see Him lurking around the edges of their story.

#14 goneganesh

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Posted 28 April 2005 - 10:53 AM

SDG said: Joe and Simon don't discover God on the mountain. But neither do they quite escape Him, I think. Joe finds that he disbelieves, but if nothing else his disbelief has significance for him. That God is not out there for him, even when the chips are down, is a fact worth contemplating and discussing. God isn't just unreal for Joe, he is emphatically absent -- his nonexistence leaves an unmistakeable void, an existential nothingness. And that void doesn't stay completely empty. The absence of God becomes the abode of something else.

Thanks, SDG. This is the mooncalf idea that was struggling to get out, and better said than I could have. I would also add that both protagonists understand that they have undergone an extraordinary (in secular language -- an "existential") experience, and there is very much the sense that they are struggling to come to grips with it, even ten years later.

And to get back to the thought on Bresson -- "Touching the Void" could be a workable subtitle for Bresson's films after "Au Hasard Balthazar"

Mouchette
A Gentle Woman
Four Nights of a Dreamer
Lancelot of the Lake
The Devil, Probably
L'Argent

In these films, which are really studies of despair, characters confront that same void that Joe and Simon encounter. They ask and struggle with what it means, and because they are surrounded by regular people who are incapable of loving them, are abandoned to despair.

It also occurs to me as I'm writing this -- that Bresson's oeuvre has a beautiful symmetry that is probably intentional. Six films dominated by Grace then "Au Hasard" followed by Six films dominated by Despair. The collected works make a round trip through the primary spiritual moods -- consolation and desolation. Lucky Thirteen, for you numerologists.

And the keystone in this arch, "Au Hasard" is interesting because it is a story both of despair and grace. As a signpost, it points in both directions.

Disclaimer: I just thought of this, so the idea is probably more than a little half baked.




#15 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 28 April 2005 - 11:50 AM

Gotcha (both o' ya). Thanks, good points there.

#16 John Drew

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 11:32 PM

Link to the nomination of Touching the Void for the 2008 Top100 Spiritually Significant Films.

#17 John Drew

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Posted 30 December 2010 - 08:42 AM

Singer Bobby Farrell of the 1970s European chart-topping group Boney M was found dead in his hotel bed Thursday while on tour in Russia, his agent said. He was 61.

Those of you who have seen Touching the Void may understand why I posted this here.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah, 30 December 2010 - 07:45 PM.


#18 Persona

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Posted 30 December 2010 - 09:05 AM

Singer Bobby Farrell of the 1970s European chart-topping group Boney M was found dead in his hotel bed Thursday while on tour in Russia, his agent said. He was 61.

Those of you who have seen Touching the Void will understand why I posted this here.

Actually, since it's been five or six years since I saw Touching The Void, I can honestly say I have no idea why you posted this here. I do remember this being quite an effective film, though the details are lost on me.

#19 John Drew

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Posted 30 December 2010 - 07:45 PM

Well, at the height of his delirium, Joe Simpson said that what nearly drove him to madness was a song that got stuck in his head, and wouldn't go away. That song was "Brown Girl in the Ring" by Boney M, a band that Simpson said he wasn't very fond of, and could think of no reason why that particular song would plague him like it did.



#20 Persona

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Posted 30 December 2010 - 11:01 PM

Hilarious.

Happens to me all the time, but with old school 80s church songs. It's a much larger scale of Worse, if you know what I mean.

I really need to see this film again. Perhaps when we're done with all these lists I'll remember to go back to it.