Free Solo

Released September 2018 | 1 hour 40 minutes | Box Office: 12 million | Reviewer: Bill Braier

This review has Spoilers.

Free Solo Takes Documentary to New Heights

National Geographic highest grossing documentary, Free Solo, merges absolutely breathtaking IMAX views of American rock climber, Alex Honnold, from high atop cliffs of mountain ranges around the planet along with a deep look into what makes this adventurist continue his relentless eight-year pursuit to attain perfection. If you are afraid of heights, this film allows you to take nail biting mountain cliff climbs from the comfort of your own couch.

Will Alex fall to his death as he climbs the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without any safety ropes, using just his bare hands? No one has free climbed El Capitan till now. One mistake and you are dead. Over forty of Alex’s fellow free soloists have already died. Will he be next?

When I was walking out the theater, my legs felt weak as I readjusted to being back on the ground. Mentally this adventure film takes you on a journey that only one man has ever mastered. The camera crew used drones, high powered telescopic cameras, and even shoulder mounted equipment to witness this historic event. The crew repelled down cliffs with ropes at an angle so they could see this death-defying ascent, but still remained out of his line of sight as not to disturb his concentration.

It might have been called “Death Watch” as death is discussed throughout the movie. In one part it shows the camera men looking away from their cameras scared that Alex would miss a step. You will love this movie but it is emotionally draining. Often the audience watched with one hand over their mouths in amazement.

It’s not just the physical toll it takes on Alex as it is the mental challenge to block out all fear. In one scene, neurologists use an MRI to scan Alex’s brain fear center, the amygdala, finding Alex did not have any sign of activity when shown scary videos, wherein a normal brain would light up like a Christmas tree. It briefly examines his family life, mentioning his deceased father had Asperger syndrome. They said Alex did not have it.  But per Wikipedia, people with this condition may be socially awkward and have an all-absorbing interest in specific topics. Just saying.

Cameramen ride along in his converted van peering in to Alex’s strained nascent relationship with his beautiful girlfriend. Not much of a cook, Alex wolfs down 12-inch frying pans full of weird high protein meals. Imagine starting at 5 am to climb 3000-foot cliff and finishing at sunset. Tall, lanky and unbelievably strong Alex single minded determination to climb El Capitan is the literally the climax of this movie.

This movie grossed 12 million since its September release, making it one of the most successful documentaries in National Geographic’s history. I would see it again in a heartbeat. Loved it. You need to experience this documentary at the movies while it is still there.