“There’s got to be a rope we just can’t see.” – Elijah Weaver
There is little to like about Alex Honnold. He’s arrogant, he’s somewhat obtuse, and he’s emotionally distant. But he possesses an uncanny ambition, a relentless drive to accomplish the impossible. Undoubtedly the best free solo climber in the world, Alex has dreamed for years of scaling Yosemite’s daunting El Capitan, a 3,000 ft. wall of sheer granite, which in his estimation is the pinnacle of free-soloing achievement. Chronicling the year leading up to his monumental ascent, Free Solo provides a glimpse into the surprisingly tranquil world of Honnold and his starkly minimalistic existence. The film has its share of unforgettable moments throughout that will keep your palms clenched or your jaw ajar, from one especially intriguing episode of Alex receiving an MRI on his brain only to discover that his Amygdala – the part of the brain triggered by fear and stress – doesn’t show normal responsive activity, to the climactic climb itself. The time it takes to finally witness the climb is well worth the wait, and what the film captures during the climb, the interspersed emotionally visceral reactions of the filmmakers – all Honnold’s friends – as they prepare themselves for the worst, makes for a unique film-watching experience.
Filmmaking team Jimmy Chin, a professional climber himself, and wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (see their 2015 film Meru), go to great heights to show the soaring grandeur of El Capitan. In the shots of Alex gliding in a seemingly effortless fashion up the wall’s face, one feels the noble indifference of nature to humankind’s never-ending exploration of its limits. Most importantly, though, Free Solo invites you to meditate on your own mortality. It prompts you to recognize your finitude and to ask yourself what matters most, what you are willing to give up in order to pursue your greatest aspirations. Alex deliberately flirts with death in a way that most of us never will. Nevertheless, his story, his earnest attempt to conquer the unconquerable, is but a mirror into the life of each viewer, as one will leave with a nagging question mark. Am I pursuing what I love in the short time I’ve been given? And if I am doing so, is it at the cost of something, maybe relationships, that will be rendered more important to me in the end? Alex Honnold’s relationship with Sanni McCandless, his likeable and surprisingly supportive girlfriend, provides a window into Alex’s own struggle between these poles. And his insight with regard to these questions becomes clearer at the end, though open to decipher. This film is truly a mountain-top experience, a worthwhile climb indeed.
Must See Now
Must See in Theaters
Must See, but You Can Wait
Don’t Watch This Movie
OSCAR PREDICTIONS (NOMINATIONS, NOT WINS):
This one is obvious…
(definitely) Best Documentary Feature – Free Solo