“Free Solo” is a National Geographic documentary profiling Alex Honnold, a free solo climber who completed the first free solo climb of El Capitan’s 3,000-foot vertical rock face at Yosemite National Park.
Free solo rock climbing is climbing without a rope, or anything attached to you. It has killed numerous experienced climbers in the past, a few of Honnold’s friends in fact — Andrew Barnes, and Ueli Steck who were mentioned in the film.
His free solo of El Capitan was, according to New York Times, “one of the greatest athletic feats of any kind, ever.” Honnold has spent years planning his trek up El Capitan.
He refers to it as a fascinating puzzle, and a long journey. He studied El Capitan in extreme detail, examining every piece of rock. The film interviews people closest with Alex who didn’t want him to go through with the climb.
Five people had died making the attempt to free solo El Capitan. The film can be seen as something incredible, and inspiring of a man accomplishing his lifelong dream, or it can be seen as someone who went against better judgment and got away with it.
The documentary also dives into Honnold’s life as a child, and his current relationship with his girlfriend. They said they met at a book signing, and she decided to embrace his simple mind, and his sacrifice of the “cozy life.” He lives in a van, and travels all over the world to climb. The movie also dives into his childhood of being conditioned into not showing any kind of emotion over anything. The film cuts away before he can answer the question “Are you depressed?”
In the film they use this emotionless side of him as an advantage. Before he successfully climbs, he attempted and quit at first. He got up a little way on the rock, and ended up not going through with it because the camera crew and onlookers made him nervous.
The film gives off a theme of getting close to the edge to feel alive, like Honnold does. We get to experience that thrill secondhand through the challenging angles the producers are able to get that make you feel like you are right there with him.
You don’t have to be a fan of rock climbing to enjoy “Free Solo,” and it’s an incredible profile of an good athlete taking a dive into his vulnerabilities and his strengths.