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  • Gareth Crook

Free Solo (2018)

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Straight off there’s two things that struck me about this, the first is glaringly obvious, it’s mind meltingly scary, not fake horror, jump scare scary, I mean real ‘life’ or absolute certain painful ‘death’ scary. Climbing 3000ft up a rock with NO ROPE. Alex Honnold is, well he’s not nuts, quite the opposite, he’s focused in a way that most of us just can’t fathom. There’s always something else in our lives that distract us, things we have to do, things we want to do. Alex doesn’t have any of that. Alex has climbing. That. Is. It. The second is the way this doc is made, it’s equally as focused. There is a little history, but it’s kept to a minimum, this is purely about the task ahead. To attempt a free solo climb of El Capitan and everything that entails. Never done, because it’s been thought impossible... or simply too dangerous. In his own words “I know if I fall, my body will pretty much explode on impact”. There’s some really nice stuff with the camera crew, showing how they captured this, why they did this, the process they had to follow and what it was like and it really helps to put this in context, it’s really not just a film. The commonality that pulls all the threads together is predictably simple... risk. Death is a real prospect, even an inevitability and it’s addressed head on, like a massive ‘Do not try this at home’ disclaimer. I’ve watched at least 50% of this shaking my head in disbelief, it’s truly staggering. The sheer magnitude, learning every crevice, every inch, my heart rate went up and I was just sat on the sofa. The truth is Alex is cut off from most people’s perception of reality. He’s confident, strong, blasé to a point that he could be dismissed as crazy, but that’s just us being lazy. The crew shooting are our eyes literally and figuratively, they’re all seasoned climbers, but just as astonished at the attempt. “We wanna film it well, but we don’t wanna get in the way”. There are clear decisions taken as to which parts of the climb are to be shot and how... and which are, too dangerous, too distracting and too high a possibility of seeing him fall. There’s painfully awkward scenes with Alex and his girlfriend, frank discussions about his approach to their life together, which essentially comes down to what’s more important, their relationship or soloing... it’s the climbing. He needs the perfection, not people, not emotion. There could be a full stop in the film’s title. Alex is ‘Free’ when he’s ‘Solo’. “Nobody ever did anything good because they’re happy and cozy”. As a viewing experience this is anything but cozy, in fact I’d go as far to say as this is possibly some of the most intense footage in cinematic history. Not sure you’re into climbing? Watch this. Not sure you like documentaries? Watch this. Afraid of heights? Watch this. Whatever you do, watch this!!



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