Sheer rock cliff walls are as manifest as mountains, with as much reason to climb: because they’re there.
In the film Free Solo, the titular form of rock climbing done alone without ropes or any equipment is presented as a lunatic yet somehow pure pursuit. It is Alex Honnold’s dream to climb El Capitan, a 3,200-foot, nearly sheer rock face in California’s Yosemite National Park, using only his hands, feet, and strength of body and mind. Not for fame, not for material gain, but as a realisation of what can be achieved through sometimes brutal determination.
Free Solo is a breathtaking work of cinematography, from scenes of excruciatingly precise hand and footholds to dizzying panoramic views of what Honnold hopes to scale. The question of why, and if, Honnold wants to continue to be the subject of the documentary hovers throughout, with no simple answers. Free Solo depicts an extreme sport, but it is also an exploration of the elusive motivations behind such strivings.
Reviewed by Olga Azar