Friday, December 28, 2018

Movie with Abe: Free Solo

Free Solo
Directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Released September 28, 2018

Where some look and see an idea that scares them, others see an incredible opportunity and challenge. Most people would balk at the notion of scaling a mountain, and even fewer would ever consider doing it without a harness and people nearby to help them should anything occur to put their climb in jeopardy. Yet there do exist those for whom such possibilities are immensely appealing, and to try to accomplish a daring feat with safeguards in place diminishes the excitement and feeling of success that comes from the achievement of a climb without injury or, worse, death.

The focus of this documentary is on Alex Honnold, a climber in his early thirties who is an accomplished free soloist. His history of climbs is covered over the course of the film, but the main challenge he seeks to complete is to be the first person to ascend El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without any assistance. His friends follow him, adding to the experience by watching him as he moves up the side of the mountain with no knowledge of whether their next shot may capture his final moment since they too are in it with him as he works towards his next incredible goal.

This film serves as a spotlight on this field but also an examination of what kind of person lives this kind of life. Relationships are difficult since those who don’t have the same urge to climb can’t understand why someone feels the need to put themselves at risk. Alex describes how he didn’t learn much about love and hugs, and had to teach himself that as he grew up in this more isolated hobby, one that counts many among the dead. The realization of just how precarious each free solo is comes up again and again, with so many expert climbers lost far too soon in the midst of one of their daring ascents.

This film introduces its subject matter and dives right in, showcasing Alex in action as he plots out the mathematics of his route and the best way to be able to start and end without either stopping or falling. The influence of the camera is analyzed here too in an intriguing way, since, unlike most documentaries, its presence as a factor that affects the behavior of those captured within its lens is recognized and acknowledged. This film manages to be thought-provoking and exhilarating at the same time, and while this reviewer probably wouldn’t climb a moment even with all safety precautions, this world is completely worth visiting from this viewpoint.


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