Friday, December 01, 2006

Watching the void

Last weekend I watched the drama documentary Touching the Void for the fourth time. If I were an enthusiast, I'd clap hands and say: what a great film! Then perhaps compare it with other examples of the genre, discuss the merits or otherwise of each, and leave it at that. But I'm not an enthusiast. All I want to know is: why the hell did I watch it again?

The only answer, apart from the facile one, is that, for all the filmmaker's painstaking attention to making or remaking an extraordinary and inspiring story, I am always left wanting more. Something is missing from the film. Each time I watch it again there's a compulsion to look again for what's missing. And be frustrated again.

Presumably it is the void itself that is missing. But when is it touched? Perhaps when Joe contemplates the abyssal descent into the frozen Sarlacci pit. Yet as we know that saves him, it is merely an imagined void, not the void itself. As we look down, we're always left with the residual energy of frustrated foreboding. Is that non-experience the void? Maybe it's below the false floor of the crevasse, creaking beneath Joe's body as he crawls toward the light?

Later, as we watch Joe clambering over moraine, he says in voice-over that it wasn't survival he sought so much as company. He didn't want to die alone. This is incredibly moving. He needed a witness. Otherwise his life would be the void; the story would then be the void itself and we would never hear it. And yet, because he found company and didn't die, the story can only be about what was avoided. No wonder there's something missing.

Most glaring of all, what's missing is the end. The narrative stops as soon as Joe has been hauled into the glowing tent. Isn't that really where it should begin? Perhaps the interviews stand for that time when suddenly the void has past. The story itself, however, is never past. It rests upon the void which is now always missing and for which it is always searching.


  1. Anonymous9:04 am

    Over comming void; overcomming the fear; the fear of writing.

  2. Incidentally, you capture the odd experience of reading through the book very well. (I didn't know there was a film, but can't imagine it is all that different.)

  3. I did read the book back in the 80s but have no memory of it except being unable to picture what "flutings" "meringues" and "cornices" looked like.

  4. "Yet as we know that saves him, it is merely an imagined void, not the void itself."

    but that will always be true. we can't ask of "void itself", we have to always go through Joe's consciousness. but yes, there is still an incredible will to survive which counters this feeling of having experienced the void and of course the end result too.



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