Movie: Free Solo
My Rating: 5 stars
Oh man! I can’t describe this movie without using the word “tense” about a billion times. This is a seriously nerve-wracking film. It’s a documentary about rock-climber Alex Honnold, on his mission to free-climb El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. That’s a 3,200-foot rock wall. And this crazy kid decided to climb it in one go, without any ropes or protective gear. It’s a completely insane venture, and even the filmmakers were debating whether it was ethical to be filming (and indirectly encouraging) a man that could fall to his death at any moment.
I saw this one in the theater last weekend, and it had me literally sweating. I was on the edge of my seat, and my palms were sweaty the whole time. I think everyone in the theater was just as tense. The scariest part of the movie is that all the filmmakers were sweating it too. If we just saw endeavor from Alex’s point of view, the audience probably wouldn’t be so worried, because that guy is cool as a cucumber. But, we learn in the film that Honnold’s brain differs from the “typical” brain in that he doesn’t get scared or alarmed by things that others find terrifying. So, I’m glad we get to see the story unfold from the point of view of Alex’s film crew—a group of his rock-climbing friends. Because, they are absolutely terrified for him. They train with him the whole way, but as the day draws closer, they all start to get really nervous. None of them really wants him to do this climb, but they know they can’t stop him. And, when he actually does attempt the feat, few of them have the nerve to watch.
The cinematography in this film is absolutely stunning. A lot of it was filmed by a crew that was climbing the exact same wall that Alex was. Of course, they’re all tied in with ropes. But having the camera up there with him really gives the audience a sense of just how high and crazy this climb it. The camera sweeps down the wall, showing the height. And, it sweeps up to give a sense of what a marathon the task is. It pulls out from a close-up shot of Alex physically exerting himself, to an incredibly wide shot so that we can see just how tiny this guy is on the massive wall. It’s pretty dizzying.
I do not recommend this movie for anyone who has any issues with heights, or who has delicate nerves. It feels like a feat just being able to watch this whole movie without having a complete nervous breakdown. I had to go wash my sticky hands after it was over. But, the movie is amazing. Alex Honnold is an anomaly, and people like that are naturally fascinating. And, this lean, wiry guy is very charming. And, I guess that’s what makes him so dangerous. Even his friends liken climbing with his to smoking cigarettes. It’s bad for them, but they keep coming back. His recklessness is contagious, and his friends are worried that it may get them killed one day. But, of course, this makes for a completely compelling documentary subject. I loved the film, and recommend it to anyone with the constitution for it.