Free Solo Movie Review
Free Solo, a documentary detailing Alex Honnold’s ropeless ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, is easily enjoyed by extreme sports enthusiasts. What is much more striking and more easily understood is the factor of human nature itself.
Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s ‘Free Solo’
The film not only describes Honnold’s 8 year journey to finally scale El Cap without gear, directors Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi also detail Honnold’s childhood, one that left him the entirely calloused, unemotional person he is today. While the story of his upbringing is told through Honnold and his mom, the effect of his rough childhood is told through his relationship with his girlfriend Sanni. “We never really hugged in my family. I had to teach myself how to hug,” revealed Honnold, who would go on to explain how the word ‘love’ wasn’t used much either. This left him as a self described melancholy child who, due to his social anxiety, got into free solo climbing.
Although his relationship with Sanni is a big talking point in the film, Honnold makes it clear that his priority currently in life is climbing. What Free Solo does best is give us an inside look at what is required to even attempt such a climb. Despite climbing his Freerider route on El Cap 40+ times, Honnold needed to be entirely secure in every single hand and foothold on the 3,000 foot route, as unlike any other sport, Honnold must not make a single mistake, as him doing so would lead to his death. The film provides us with breathtaking shots of Yosemite and breathtaking, vertigo-inducing angles of the wall during Honnold’s ascent, making him look like a mere ant against the giant granite wall. Chin and Vasarhelyi expertly film him while ensuring his safety, never speaking to him and planting remote cameras on the wall during the most difficult portions, like the appropriately named “Boulder Problem” pitch.
Before this film, Honnold’s achievement, both due to his humble persona and small following, went entirely unnoticed outside of the climbing world. This film perfectly captures what is required of a climber to ascend a wall taller than the world’s tallest building without ropes. Hopefully the box office success of Free Solo lets viewers truly appreciate Honnold’s free solo of El Cap for what it is, quite possibly the greatest athletic achievement in human history.