‘Free Solo’ Is A Real Hair-Riser For Its Audience

Gabriel Anton, Staff Writer

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Throughout history, the world has witnessed many incredible feats in the realms of rock climbing amongst the fearless climbers setting the standard for those who venture after.

There are many near impossible climbs spread out all across the world, most famously found in places like Yosemite National Park, California, the Karakoram Mountains in Pakistan, the region of Patagonia spanning from Argentina to Chile or even tall buildings like the Burj Khalifa or Trump Tower.

Rock climbers test themselves with these dangerous climbs, scaling mountains by hanging on to centimeter-wide protrusions on the massive, flat terrains. They take hours at a time, sometimes they even sleep suspended from the edge.

One of the most difficult rock formations to climb comes from Yosemite National Park in the form of El Capitan, a granite monolith spanning about 3,000 from base to summit. One particular daredevil climber Alex Honnold managed to not only scale it but also do so free solo. The 32-year-old climber goes alone, without any ropes, safety harnesses or any other protective equipment; one small mistake away from falling to his death.

The critically acclaimed and phenomenally executed 2018 documentary “Free Solo” follows Honnold’s journey to this climb, which is regarded as one of the hardest and most impressive climbs in history. The spectacle was filmed and produced by National Geographic and serves as a thrilling alternative to the usual action-packed and special effects filled blockbusters that dominate the theaters for a good portion of the year. This film was a very risky endeavor, as Honnold’s family, his girlfriend and his fellow rock climbing friends, all helped him prepare for a climb that could have very well not made it in the final product.

The cinematography of this documentary is breathtaking and adrenaline pumping, allowing the audience to be completely immersed the experience that Honnold and his crew went through. The camera follows as Honnold holds himself still on an almost completely vertical ascent by just his thumbs, index fingers and toe-tips. The thrill comes from the fact that everything caught on camera was not subject to any safety precautions. Honnold was literally on his own during the production, and in the film, it is obvious that the camera crew are just as on edge about it as the audience.

The beautiful landscape of the mountainous Yosemite National Park provides the documentary with a very cinematic and tellurian feel. It provides a release of tension for the audience whenever the camera pans around the intricate rock patterns, allowing them to take their minds off what is actually happening in the film.

Honnold truly solidifies himself as a pioneer in rock climbing with this documentary. His past life and psyche are placed in the forefront of this film, allowing the audience to feel the stakes and live in the incredible moments from the perspective of a professional rock climber; the right perspective.

He leads a generally simple life, and during filming had been living in his van for a decade, always following the good weather conditions. He has been climbing his entire life and currently holds the fastest ascent of the Yosemite triple crown with his 18 hour and 50-minute journey over three other incredibly difficult climbs in Mount Watkins, The Nose and the Half Dome. His free solo ascent of the El Capitan was never tried before the making of this documentary.

His story is very inspiring when you think about, what he and what his close ones are going through in this film make it intriguing. His spirit is unbreakable, and it shows through the support and reactions of his girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, and his close friends and film crew, who could barely look at the camera when they were filming his crazy climbing stunts.

He describes his mentality as a free-soloist as “pretty close to warrior culture, where you give something 100 percent focus because your life depends on it.” He was not just a thrill-seeker but showed that this climb was a test of the human spirit allowing him to be as close to perfect as possible, as the sport of rock climbing really entails.

Overall, the documentary will leave you white-knuckled, sweaty, yet extremely satisfied and inspired. The story is one of a kind, and the fact that the film was successfully made is a feat in itself. It is quite a revolutionary documentary that deserves to be seen by everyone. It was also nominated for best documentary feature at the 91st Academy Awards, where it stands to win big.