The beauty of Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s Free Solo lies within their determination to capture a man’s embarking on the extraordinary.
Chin’s climber friend Alex Honnold is doing a very specific dare: he would climb over the 3,000ft tall El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, California by “free solo” – a climb that demands no safety ropes should be used throughout.
For eight years, El Capitan was just a dream for Honnold; that big rock he would only gaze with wonder as a child. Nobody has succeeded in climbing it without ropes, not even the most experienced free solo climber. For one, it would require physical and mental endurance to be successful.
Honnold knew it wasn’t going to be a one-climb-up. For months, he and his team would conduct several practices the perfect the right moves for a successful climb as if it’s a long dance with very precise choreography.
The sooner the day of the climb comes close, the clearer Free Solo finds its true self. The filmmaking team, including Honnold’s girlfriend Sanni McCandless, started to embrace the assumption that the El Capitan challenge, where chances of survival can be 1000 to 1, could be his unfortunate end.
Honnold, at one point, backed out just because he cannot do it. Months after, he embarked on a new life decision of owning a house with McCandless. For someone who spent a large chunk of his adult life living inside a van by himself and just wanting to be alone, it’s very heartbreaking to see a man finally trying to reconnect with his outside world and live a typical life.
But he eventually performed his climb. In what might be the most dangerous act captured on film, Alex Honnold free-solo climbed the El Capitan. For this climactic moment alone, Free Solo becomes a documentary that everyone needs to see on the biggest screen they can find. It’s nauseating, insanely nerve-wracking, but a wonderful sight.
Here, the directors Chin and Vasarhelyi had done something remarkable: to be brave enough to capture a moment that could easily be turned out to be an instant death caught on camera. But they believed, as much as Honnold believed in himself.
Free Solo is largely rewarding for its inspirational insights. Essential viewing for those searching for the extraordinary.