<-- Google Analytics START --> <-- Google Analytics END -->

john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, December 22, 2003
    Avoiding the Void

    "The pain was quite indescribable. At first I was screaming my head off and swearing like a trooper. And after a while I thought, 'There's no-one bloody listening to me.' So I stopped screaming and it was much easier. So I've learned: screaming isn't an expression of pain, it's a call for help..."

    - Joe Simpson, in Touching the Void, a painfully honest, deeply engrossing documentary about what happened when two ambitious young men messed up badly in the mountains, faced death - apart - but somehow survived.

    On the way out of the cinema this evening Bob told me that in the book of Joe Simpson's recollections of his three days of anguish in the high Andes, there's plenty of metaphysics. I found some in the film, too, though of the grimmest kind. Simpson describes the point where, lying inside a deep crevasse, separated from co-climber Simon Yates, his right leg shattered, he realised that he really had renounced the faith of his upbringing - he knew himself to be completely alone. Fully realised that life was all he had and that was about to end.

    He then tells us that it was not wanting to die alone which motivated him to try to escape that icy tomb; it was not wanting to die alone which made him drag his battered, dehydrated body through miles of killer rock and iceflow, to base camp. It was not wanting to die alone which caused him to cry bitter tears as he realised he was nearly there, but equally that his companion, two days ahead of him, would probably have left without him, assuming him dead.

    No afterlife, then, for Simpson, but the greatest regard for this life and the deepest need to share that with others. This film validates human companionship like few others I've seen. It also validates pop music, even the most banal: for in Simpson's delilrium on his descent, it was nothing profound which kept him moving, but Brown Girl in the Ring spooling around his head for hours and hours: "Bloody hell, I'm going to die to Boney M!" - surely one of the cinematic lines of the year.