Movie Review: Free Solo

The new documentary “Free Solo” is about mountain climber Alex Honnold, who is the greatest free mountain climber in the world. The term “free climber” means that the climber climbs a mountain or large rock without any ropes or even a parachute. Why something like this would not even include using a parachute is a mystery to anyone who would never understand people who risk their lives like this. Of all mountain climbers, less than 1% free climb, because it is so dangerous. Many free climbers have fallen to their death in this sport, especially during the last few years.

In the entire history of climbing the famous rock formation El Capitan, nobody has ever climbed it without ropes. This one task is the central point of this documentary and the main goal in life for Honnold. This movie is also about the very unusual life of Alex Honnold, who dropped out of college at the age of 19, to pursue the life of a professional mountain climber. I thought that the one thing lacking in this film is how exactly Alex makes money from this profession, but I assumed its mostly from endorsements for mountain climbing products. Honnold travels the country risking his life climbing mountains and living in a Van and from his attitude about life and his complete lack of all fear, due to a brain abnormality we learn about during an MRI he receives in the film. Honnold’s entire existence is only about feeling alive by taking huge risks with this life. The problem with successful climbers like Honnold is that they inspire other young people to take the same risks, without anywhere near the same level of talent and many of them will be killed. The other problem with risk taking like this is that just because your successful 100 times or 1000 times, all it takes is one gust of wind and one mistake and your life is over in an instant. This is the same issue with Tom Cruise and the huge risks he takes with all of the Mission Impossible movies – all it takes is one small miscalculation and your life is over. Is it worth it?

The majority of this movie are about the practice runs Honnold takes on El Capitan with ropes to master the many different areas of the rock that are the most difficult to traverse. Most fascinating are the artistic and complex body and hand movements that Alex perfects to get past areas of the mountain that seem impossible to climb – until the end of the documentary when he takes the ultimate risk of his life and tries to climb the rock with no ropes.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for Free Solo are a perfect 100% and as documentaries go, I agree with this rating. I highly recommend this movie.