This is a skilfully put together docudrama. It tells a harrowing story of a climb in 1985 of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes that should have ended in death but, amazingly, did not. The two climbers involved, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, and Richard Hawking, a stranger they met and asked to take care of their base camp during what was supposed to be a one day climb to the peak and back, all tell their story in vivid reminiscence straight to camera. They are very frank about their tensions, the decisions made on the mountain, life and death choices, as well as how they reacted to the climbing fraternities' criticisms of Simon for cutting the rope on Joe when he saw no other alternative.
Director, Kevin MacDonald, has based his film on Simpson's 1988 account of his experiences, Touching the Void and has elicited strong statements from the three concerned and edited them dramatically. He has also employed actors to reenact the climb, filming in the Andes as well as the Alps. The hardships endured by both Joe and Simon are graphically recaptured as if we were watching the real thing - the unpredictable weather, the dangerous peaks and crevasses, snow and ice. When Simon cuts the rope on Joe, he thinks that Joe is dead and that he will die. He gets down to camp within four days. The latter part of the film is watching Joe, who has broken his leg, demonstrate a will to live and an instinct for survival that beggars belief. When people say the human spirit is indomitable, this is what they must mean. Simpson explains how he lost his Catholic faith and how it did not return during his ideal. He thought there was nothing after death, and he still strove desperately to live.
Those who will never climb a mountain or experience anything like this may find the film hard to watch. For the initiated, they will be watching with a close attention to detail (and memories of their own climbs and dangers).
Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.