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In the mid-80's two young climbers attempted to reach the summit of Siula Grande in Peru; a feat that had previously been attempted but never achieved. With an extra man looking after base camp, Simon and Joe set off to scale the mount in one long push over several days. The peak is reached within three days, however on the descent Joe falls and breaks his leg. Despite what it means, the two continue with Simon letting Joe out on a rope for 300 meters, then descending to join him and so on. However when Joe goes out over an overhang with no way of climbing back up, Simon makes the decision to cut the rope. Joe falls into a crevasse and Simon, assuming him dead, continues back down. Joe however survives the fall and was lucky to hit a ledge in the crevasse. This is the story of how he got back down. Written by
bob the moo
Some of the long distance shots of Simon and Joe climbing the mountain are played not by the lead actors, but by body doubles, who were Simon Yates and Joe Simpson themselves. See more »
Commenting his descent deeper into the break, Joe says, "I didn't put a knot into the end of the rope. If there was nothing down there, I would fall, and it would be quick." Two minutes before (approx. at 54:30) he is throwing the end of the rope into that break, and as it falls, we see clearly that the knot is properly tied at the end. Just as safety rules prescribe. See more »
During the first part of the closing credits (before the crawl), the credits are accompanied by black-and-white pictures showing the three men's journey back into civilization; the final picture is of Joe in the hospital. See more »
There are exceptions, but mountaineering movies fall roughly into two classes; overblown, unrealistic cliffhanging (in more than one sense) dramas ('Eiger Sanction', 'K2', 'Cliffhanger', 'Vertical Limit') and rather trite descriptive documentaries often seen as padding for the 'National Geographic' channel schedules, although Jon Krakaur's 'Into Thin Air' managed to combine the worst of both worlds. Both classes have in common (usually) Gortex gear, superb mountain scenery and splendid cinematography. What distinguishes this survival story is that it has (sorry about this) high drama, an understated style and absolute authenticity. The actual principals, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, and Richard Hawkins the non-climber base camp minder, narrate their story as it is re-enacted, partly at the original site in Peru (though some filming was done in the European Alps), while actors (with very few lines to say) re-enact the saga of the Siula West Face climb. It all hangs together beautifully; and I was rapt from go to whoa. My disbelief was entirely suspended.
Even documentaries are stories rather than fact (whatever that is) and this story is superbly told, for which director Kevin Macdonald can take full credit, though perhaps one should also thank Simon Yates and Joe Simpson for telling us their stories. One critic has taken the director to task in not dwelling on the moral issues involved the cutting the rope bit. No mountaineering drama is without one of these but here it actually happened. That critic has missed the point the approach here is 'be your own judge'.
This film manages to appeal both to mountaineers (a small but highly critical audience) and non-mountaineers. As a (semi-retired) and undistinguished member of the former group, I found few nits to pick, though a more extended explanation of the difference between Alpine-style and Expedition climbing would help to show non-mountaineers that it wasn't a suicide attempt (though speaking for myself I wouldn't have tried it with less than four in the party). And as the film was about a climb that went wrong, the joy of climbing, which is not easy to explain to non-mountaineers was rather overshadowed by Joe's suffering as he dragged himself, leg broken, down the mountain. But never have I seen a more graphic illustration of the adage 'never give up'. Lie down to die and you will die. Joe and the Texan doctor on Everest (see 'Into Thin Air') both should have died, yet they survived. In the doctor's case it seems to have been some primeval instinct (he was not a mountaineer). In Joe's case he seems to have treated survival as a challenge and focused his thoughts accordingly ('I thought, in twenty minutes I'll be at the next rock'). I winced every time his broken leg hit something.
To sum up this is a great film, which will live long in your memory, climber or non-climber.
P.S. Simon was only 20 or so at the time, Joe a more mature 25. Both have kept climbing, though significantly not together.
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