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Heroes of the Zeroes: Touching the Void

by on November 2, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Touching the Void”
Rated R


Those who’d claim dominion by dominating mountains have little damn to give about anyone else. But who can blame Joe Simpson and Simon Yates’ ambition, chasing off mankind’s clutter for the clarity of clanging axes into ice and ascending to rarefied air four miles up from the Peruvian Andes’ base?

All that alienated Simpson and Yates to the larger world empowered them in isolation. These selfish-sportsman friends’ 1985 dual ascent to Siula Grande’s 21,000-foot summit abandoned most precautions — most surprisingly the damn pals usually give about each other.

It’s a nagging uncertainty for climbers that their partner could lose focus, slip up and doom them both. They hope that variable never takes hold, especially not with the demonic grip that ensnared Simpson and Yates on their descent — agonizingly, astonishingly recalled and re-created in Kevin MacDonald’s 2003 documentary, “Touching the Void.” (No details here, but the teeth-grinding circumstances may test your dental deductible.)

As the horrifying flipside of the similarly perilous, but comparatively flippant, “Man on Wire,” “Void” ventures past guilt, luck, pain, hope and hallucinations — cinematically reenacted down to every captivating details of dizziness, dread, desperation and dismay.

“Void” plummets into the nucleus of instinct and consciousness — the idea that overcoming the mountain’s and the mind’s elements demands a near-primordial pursuit beyond bravery or weakness.

Harrowing and humbling, “Void” doesn’t concoct fake comfort about what Simpson and Yates gained from their Siula Grande ordeal. Like the viewer, it stares in transfixed, unforgettable awe at the horror of all they lost.