Alex Honnold is fully aware of the risks he takes when he climbs massive rock faces without safety harnesses or any form of support. Just one tiny mistake or mistimed judgement would lead to his sudden demise. This stark potential outcome is always present throughout the film; neither climber nor film crew ever shies away from it.
The process of ‘free-climbing’ and Honnold’s career of sheer drops and intense highs is closely examined in this intimate and frequently terrifying documentary.
The film charts Honnold’s progress as he attempts to become the first person to climb the 3,200 foot El Capitan rock-face in California’s Yosemite National Park. Facing this challenge without a rope or harness, Honnold is realistic about the dangers, but is mostly untroubled by the risk before him.
Why climbers, including Honnold, choose to put their lives at such risk is closely examined during this adrenaline-charged film. Honnold undergoes an MRI scan at one stage, and is found to have a dysfunctional amygdala – the part of the brain that helps to process fear and alarm – which may well have something to do with his choice of career.
Ultimately, free climbers love the buzz and adrenaline rush of climbing ever higher. Pushing themselves to the limit to see the rest of the world down below is a calling that they simply cannot resist.
Part of the film that is well drawn is how the intelligent and sensitive Honnold interacts with others; his new relationship with Sanni – someone with a greater emotional awareness than the self-focused free-climber – is examined sensitively.
An inspiring and rewarding journey through the limits of human endeavour, Free Solo is an exhilarating look at a world of immediate danger and committed athleticism. Managing to capture the technicalities of what it’s like to attempt a scaling of such magnitude, alongside a warmly drawn personal character study, the film is a triumph in both beauty and understanding.