• Matt Craig

The Mind-Blowing Character Study of 'Free Solo'




I will be the first to admit that I know nothing about rock climbing. And to be totally honest, I don't really care about it either. I would assume most of you all reading this are starting from the same place. But the journey of Alex Honnold to become the first human to climb Yosemite's 3000ft "El Capitan" wall "free solo," meaning without a rope or a harness, made for one of the best documentaries I've seen in my entire life.

The documentary serves as a character study of Honnold, who is utterly one of a kind. He's obsessive about his craft in a way few could ever match, and to the detriment of any semblance of a real life. Seriously, he lives in a van and eats canned chili out of a pan with a spatula. He's dedicated every aspect of his existence, and reached the peak of performance, in a pursuit that doesn't hold any real meaning to the world. His fixation on climbing this mountain simultaneously means the world to him and nothing to the world.

And in an instant, with one tiny imperfection, that existence could be gone. One wrong move and he's dead.

Facing this morbid reality has clearly stunted Honnold's emotional maturity, and the way he interacts and attempts to maintain relationships with friends, mentors, and even a perfectly normal and nice girlfriend is shocking. He's blunt to the point of offense, yet without any shame. Somehow over the course of the film the viewer comes to see this as a necessary part of his process, if you can believe it, the only way he can complete these impossible climbs.

And the climbs. Oh the climbs. I swear I haven't been so anxious and nervous while watching a movie in a long long time, maybe ever. The way the film gradually explains the art of rock climbing, and the impossibility of the task at hand, all building towards one mind-blowing sequence where Hannold is reading from his meticulous notes and you realize he has scripted every hand and foot placement for the entire four-hour climb, as we see those movements playing out real time, is likely the greatest two-minute scene I've witnessed on screen this year. By the time he's making his ultimate ascent, my heart was pounding and my hands were sweaty because I knew exactly what to watch for and how hard each move was.

I really cannot recommend this documentary highly enough. It's a fascinating piece of sociology crossed with a visceral heart-pounding adventure, captured in a way that's completely cinematic. My mind is blown.

Ok, now on to your regular three recommendations for the week! I have tried to make them as brief as possible to account for the addition of the fourth review. Thank you so much for reading any of them.

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