On President’s Day, I made a rare excursion to the movie theatre to see a movie I was only made aware of the day before, called Free Solo. Produced by National Geographic, this film documents professional rock climber, Alex Honnold’s, successful ascent to the top of El Capitan’s 900-metre vertical rock face, located in Yosemite National Park.
I never knew what free soloing was prior to this film. I knew, of course, what rock climbing was, having made feeble attempts I can count on one hand to climb an indoor wall at the behest of someone else. Ultimately, I would give up due to a variety of ailments, mainly hand, shoulder, calf, and foot cramps or being insanely out of breath. The next day, I’d be sore as hell in muscles I didn’t know existed and I would vow to never do that again. So, that’s my background on rock climbing. And in spite of that, I loved this movie.
One more technical fact I took away from the movie is the difference between free soloing and free climbing. “Free solo climbing, also known as soloing, is a form of free climbing and solo climbing where the climber (or free soloist) performs alone and without using any ropes, harnesses or other protective equipment, relying entirely on his or her ability instead.” Imagine that. Watch the trailer again. Look at this cliff face:
What this documentary could’ve done is focus exclusively on the audacity of Alex’s goals. It could’ve heightened the drama to a fever pitch to the extent that bigger meaning gets lost. But these filmmakers expertly intermingled Alex’s technical research and preparation for his ascent with interviews from family and friends as well as exploration into his childhood, health, and his other-worldly confidence. We learn that Alex, the human (he is flesh and blood, believe it or not), is compelled by a core need to perform in spite of the very real dangers of doing so.
This film was beautiful, but the majestic views of Yosemite and Alex’s satisfying hero’s journey were not solely responsible. What transcended all of this was the message it delivered. And that message is that humankind is truly incredible and if you’re willing to put in the work, you can accomplish feats beyond imagination. For that reason, I believe everyone should see this documentary!
Also, Alex is brutally honest and I loved this video of him critiquing movie scenes of rock climbing!
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