Free Solo Review
Audiences who see Free Solo will be divided about whether they like Alex Honnold or not. While no one can deny his sheer dedication and passion, the idea of climbing El Capitan, a 3000-foot vertical rock formation is an insane idea in the eyes of many people. But the fact that Alex chooses to climb it without a harness attached to him is even crazier. The indents in the rock are miniscule, meaning the slightest wrong move could lead Alex to plummet hundreds of feet to an inevitable death. It is difficult to understand how this man's brain works, and how he is willing to risk everything for this one mission.
This documentary, luckily, does not overlook his mental state. Instead, it highlights that Alex has gone through psychological tests to figure out why he remains so relaxed and calm when doing these life-threatening tasks. Apparently, his brain does not function normally; he is not in tune with his emotions so shows little fear. He does mention that he would rather not die, but he could not go through life without attempting to climb the rock formation. It's partly admirable and partly downright scary.
Alex, at least initially, comes across as quite a loveable figure. He's got a wide smile, an endearing sense of adventure and is clearly very motivated. But as the documentary progresses, you start to learn that his passion comes at detrimental costs, particularly where his personal life is concerned. He states rather early on that he'd always pick climbing over having a girlfriend, but that doesn't stop him from developing a relationship with Sanni.
Sanni appears to be a friendly woman with a bubbly personality but Alex is not someone who feels a lot of emotion towards anyone, including his own mother. At times, you wonder why she is with him at all; he even almost breaks up with her at one point after she accidentally leads to one of his injuries. Anything that is a threat to his rock climbing adventures is a massive threat to Alex, but Sanni, although clearly terrified for him, is supportive throughout.
Despite being a pretty lacklustre boyfriend who doesn't seem to appreciate how much he is loved by Sanni, you can't help but get invested in Alex's journey. His practice attempts at climbing El Capitan with a harness on are frightening enough. There are many moments where Alex slightly puts his foot wrong and loses his grip on the rock. Not too suspenseful when he's got a harness on, but it makes you fear for him even more when he actually gets around to climb the rock formation free-solo. Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi did a good job of using a variety of camera shots and angles. The long shots really show off the full scope of El Capitan while the close-ups are a lot more intimate, highlighting Alex's struggle and pain, as well as his determination.
Whether you see Alex as a brilliant, inspiring man or a cold, callous madman who fails at being intimate, Free Solo is completely gripping from beginning to end. Alex is a complex individual with numerous terrific and terrible qualities, and the descriptions of his psyche are just as compelling at the scenes where he is climbing gargantuan rock formations. Alex believes that happy people are too busy being happy to actually achieve anything with their lives. You may not agree, but it is this unique philosophy that makes the man so engaging. Love him or hate him, you'll want to follow his life-changing journey every step of the way.