REVIEW: Free Solo is a dazzling documentary about athletic rock climbing worth hanging onto with gripping gumption
The old sayings "get a grip" and "I'm at the end of my rope" definitely takes on a whole thrilling new meaning courtesy of the dazzling and delirious daredevil documentary Free Solo. Co-directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin spotlight the intense challenge that is the world of athletic rock climbing but with a treacherous twist--the climber goes free-style without the benefit of protection such as rope or safety gear. Even looking at the film's edgy, risk-taking movie poster is enough to initiate a nosebleed for the queasy. Convincingly scary, mind-blowing and beyond amazement, Free Solo is wondrous and imaginative in its breath-taking depths to profile the intrigue and insanity of one seemingly indestructible man willing to reach the impossible human limits of life-and-death glory.
Indeed, Free Solo literally rises to the top for its rock-climbing gambler of guts featured as the fearless centerpiece of this competitive ritual. Award-winning documentarian Vasarhelyi and heralded global photographer Chin introduce us to the boundless brilliance of free soloist climber Alex Honnold. Vasarhelyi and Chin, responsible for the equally excitable Meru, delve into the mindset of a different kind of mad man whose rocky adrenaline (no pun intended) drives this determined personality into the realm of perilous pursuits.
For Honnold, his mountaineer-oriented motivations are hauntingly addictive. There are many questions to be asked about this free-spirited risk-taker. Does Honnold habor a secretive death wish? Does being suspended thousands of feet above the earth give him distinctive invincibility over other mere mortals that would never entertain such nightmarish notions? How can Honnold's brand of sporting swagger outweigh his urgent need for safety and just plain common sense? Perhaps Honnold is an adrenaline junkie with a personalized mission for perfection and prominence? Whatever the reasoning for Honnold's definition of accomplishment behind his competitive nature, Free Solo provides a stirring portrait of living on the crucial edge of your dreams no matter how sensational or surreal it is in reality.
Indeed, Alex Honnold is an anomaly with an unflinching appetite for danger. The film, in essence, tackles the latest obsession that fuels Honnold's urge to conquer his next free soloist feat--climbing the impressive 3,000-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. We learn that it was a life-long dream for Honnold to scale the incredible heights of El Capitan. Interestingly, Honnold takes his craft seriously because he HAS to otherwise he is facing a possible demise that is unthinkable at this point. The training and techniques applied to Honnold's regimen is stringent. Every step, movement, eating regimen, and exact bit of arm/leg exercising is routinely recorded in his trusty climbing journal. In short, Honnold requires all the concentration and memorization that he needs if he wants to keep on living despite tempting fate at a very high level.
Outside of Honnold's tantalizing adventures on the various mountains leading up to his tough homework assignment known as the bone-crushing El Capitan, we find out what an affable, low-key guy he is away from the potentially catastrophic climbs. Honnold resides in a van so naturally he is not what one would call an extravagant kind of fellow. He seems rather humbled regarding his non-chalant responses at book tours discussing his rock-climbing prowess. There is also another love in Honnold's personal circle besides mountaintops--his girlfriend Sanni McCandless. One feels for Sanni because she chose to deeply cherish a man whose life span is questionable everytime he sets his sights on a massive rock--notably El Capitan. The frightening thoughts that must run through Sanni's mind about Alex's chilling vertigal travels up rocky terrain must be devastating to her psyche.
Firmly intoxicating in its eye-opening presentation, Free Solo is devoutly exhilarating especially when Vasarhelyi and Chin literally attaches the anxious-ridden audience to Honnold's vulnerable wiry body as we feel every bit exposed to the clutch climbing as he demonstrates. It is an unspeakable odyssey that is defiant yet deliciously stimulating. Honnold is indicative of the unsatisfied soul that feels vibrantly alive and purposeful when flirting with disaster. The sentiment for Honnold and his ilk--however curious--is how the only entrance into doomsday falls in the failure not to free solo at any given chance.
Thanks but no thanks...most of us would not mind being grounded in more ways than necessary.