By: Kevin Jordan
Do not try this at home. Or ANYWHERE!
Free Solo sounds like the sequel to this year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story; the harrowing tale of a band of ragtag rebels trying to free Han Solo from his service to Jabba the Hutt. In truth, Free Solo is nearly the perfect opposite of that. Free Solo is a documentary featuring Alex Honnold and his journey to be the first human to free-climb El Capitan, a 3,000-foot cliff located in Yosemite National Park. In other words, it is about a lunatic trying to do something so dangerous it makes summiting Mt. Everest seem like a jaunt (fun fact: 6.5% of the 4,000 Mt. Everest climbers died during that climb).
If you have problems with heights, you probably do not want to watch Free Solo, but you definitely do not want to watch it in 3-D (if that version exists). There are some gorgeous and terrifying shots of various climbs throughout the film, including one that should have a vertigo warning read to you like this is a drug advertisement. For a documentary, the film is more tense than most dramatic fictional films, with the added bonus of several minutes devoted to Alex’s girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, worrying about Alex plummeting to his death. And make no mistake about the very high likelihood of that happening. A couple of times during the film, climber buddies working with Alex mention the dozens of fellow climbers who all fell to their deaths while free-climbing. The film even treats us to media blurbs of some of the more notable deaths, so it is really easy to empathize with Sanni as Alex heads off to fulfill the very top item on the batshit-crazy bucket list.
While I enjoyed the film for its aesthetics, I have to say Alex is not my favorite person. If he wants to go climb an Antarctic cliff face naked, cool, but the guy is beyond self-centered and oblivious to the feelings of the people around him (the camera crew, fellow climbers, Sanni). To be fair, there are hints that he is on the autism spectrum (likely Asperger’s Syndrome), which would explain his lack of noticing how anyone is acting around him (scared he will die, among other things), but it does not go the entire way of explaining how he simply does not care. The film also takes care to show that Sanni is putting as much effort into teaching Alex basic human social concepts as Alex puts into climbing, so we end up rooting for him to succeed far more for her sake than for his. The moral of this story is that some people are wired differently than others and I still like Alex more than the latest Han Solo character.
Rating: Wait at least thirty minutes after eating to watch this film, then ask for two dollars back.