My friend William had been trying for some time to talk me into seeing a favorite film of his titled “Touching the Void”. When I inquired about the story, he told me it was about two mountain climbers in South America and what happened to them when one of their climbs went horribly wrong.
I was not enthused about seeing the film. But he insisted, reassuring me; “…nobody dies”. Not what I would call a ringing endorsement, but I relented – a glad I did; this film had a profound influence on me and an important message about our choices in life.
The film would be considered a docudrama about young British mountain climbers, Simon and Joe. Young, impetuous and blithely unaware of their own mortality, the two experienced climbers scale Siula Grande in Peru. The ascent goes according to plan, however, during the descent, Joe slips and falls, breaking both his legs. They are now both in very big trouble.
They begin the painstaking process of trying to lower Joe down the steep face of the mountain. As fate would have it, Joe is lowered over the edge of a cliff… there is not enough rope to bring him safely down. Now Joe is suspended over the face of the cliff; Simon retaining hold on the rope on the cliffs edge. With two broken legs, Joe cannot climb up, and he is literally at the end of his rope. Simon can only hold on; which he does, but time is running short. Now the weather turns worse; cold, frostbitten, they will both die if they don’t do something – there is no alternative, Simon cuts the rope. Joe falls helplessly down the mountain face and into a crevasse.
Simon makes his way down the mountain to base camp. He is in mental and emotional turmoil about the choice and action he has made and cannot bring himself to leave the base camp.
Deep in the crevasse, Joe has survived though lodged on a narrow shelf of ice. He pulls on the rope above… which falls untethered into his lap. He inspects the end of the rope – it has been cut. Hopelessness settles in. Joe decides that he must do something; anything. In great pain he begins to inch his way down deeper down into the crevasse. The pain of any movement of his legs causes agonizing pain, yet he pulls himself along, inch by inch; moving forward.
I will not give away the remainder of the story of this true story, Touching the Void is a film well worth seeing and one I have recommended to many people. The underlying value in this story is that, given insurmountable odds, in a position of hopelessness, there is always “something” you can do – the critical thing is to keep making decisions, making choices. The story of Simon and Joe is a testament to the importance of trying even when facing the most desperate circumstances. It is an important allegory for facing the trials that life throws at us. When we are faced with the most insurmountable barriers there are always choices we can make. The secret to survival is to keep making choices no matter what.