A Review of ‘Free Solo’ (2018)
An imposing visage of vertical granite, El Capitan stands at a dizzying 3,000 feet. One of the most alluring vertical challenges within Yosemite National Park. Since 1905, there have been over thirty recorded fatalities (including experienced climbers). Though many had made it to the summit using equipment and rigging, none had done so free solo or, in simpler terms, without the use of ropes, harnesses, or protective equipment.
This is where “Free Solo,” the National Geographic documentary on the eight (8) year efforts of Alex Honnold to be the first to free solo El Capitan, begins. From the opening shots, the viewer is brought into a story where tension, along with adrenaline, continue to build. Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, along with their crew, bring the audience behind the lens and into their shoes, possibly even more so than in those of Alex’s. With the camera crew being relatively safe from any real danger (thanks to proper training along with the necessary ropes, gear, and protective equipment), they are left with the discomfort and stomach-turning feeling of possibly watching, as well as recording, their friend fall to his death.
With a runtime of an hour and forty minutes, the film chooses in no way, shape, or form to slow down but bombards us with beautiful, anxiety inducing imagery. If this might be a documentary of a man falling to his death, then the counterbalance may be the awe that is Yosemite. The cinematography captured by Jimmy Chin, Clair Popkin, and Mikey Schaefer is almost beautiful enough to make us forget that we might be watching the prequel to someone’s demise.
However, our eyes become fixated on a man who appears to never be satisfied with his accomplishments, even if he succeeds in his next conquest. Continuously chasing that next thrill, he will push himself until he perishes and we are all allowed to ride shotgun in this narrative where the hero’s obsession might just be his undoing. In all honesty, this might be the only documentary to have ever increased my pulse rate.
Normal society would call Alex Honnold’s choices irrational as he willingly puts family and friends as secondaries in his quest for that next perfect climb. Others find him to be a hero and true adventurer, proving the human spirit (along with the human body) can vanquish what was deemed impossible for so long. For this reviewer, I will cling to the comfort of my couch where “Free Solo” receives a deserving 9.5/10. Go watch it while it’s still on Hulu. YoungYoda out.