Check Out the Amazing Story of the Free Solo Documentary

Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, Free Solo is a 2018 American documentary film that stars rock climber Alex Honnold on his June 2017 mission to achieve El Capitan’s free solo climb.

It took three climbers – Warren Harding, Wayne Merry, and George Whitmore – and 47 days to reach the top when El Capitan’s face was first conquered in 1958. Honnold’s attempt was completed in 3 hours and 56 minutes.

Back in 1958, Harding, Merry, and Whitmore adopted battle techniques to reach the top – they were supported by rigid ropes, pitons, and expansion bolts and held all the resources worth of an attempt. Honnold scaled it unassisted.

Check Out the Amazing Story of the Free Solo Documentary
Image source: National Geographic

Free Solo Documentary

The Free Solo documentary premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 31, 2018, and also debuted at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, where it earned the People’s Choice Award in the Documentaries category.

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It was distributed on September 28, 2018, in the United States, where it obtained favorable critical reviews and grossed more than $28 million. The film has won considerable acclaim, namely winning the 91st Academy Awards Best Documentary Feature.

Plot

This film is about the disturbingly risky free solo attempt by Honnold in California at Yosemite’s 3,000ft-high rock formation called El Capitan. His turbulent relationship with his girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, is also shown.

Like all those closest to Honnold, she is in the most natural form of pain as he makes his climb almost supernaturally challenging. Why does he do this insane thing? 

Honnold’s physical and mental strength can be compared to that of a samurai. The documentary often brings in the camera crews’ perspectives who film his climb.

They are climbers themselves, going up in front of him or behind him (with ropes), or even using drones.

Alex is an illusion himself: equable, even-tempered yet withdrawn, while McCandless needs him to be more emotionally connected to her. As for Honnold, he obviously isn’t done with free solo climbs.

Check Out the Amazing Story of the Free Solo Documentary
Image source: IndieWire

Alex’s Life

Free Solo explores Alex’s unwavering life story as he tries to make his lifelong dream come true, and sometimes tests the boundaries of the human body’s potential.

He was born on August 17, 1985, and is an American rock climber best known for his vast walls’ free solo treks. His 2017 feat of free soloing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is considered one of the greatest athletic achievements ever.

Honnold is the only person to free solo El Capitan, keeping the Yosemite triple crown’s fastest climb, an 18-hour, 50-minute link between Mount Watkins, The Nose, and the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. 

He enjoys long and high paths, and he manages to do them fast. He is the author of the memoir Alone on the Wall (2017) (with David Roberts). He said the following climbers influence him: Peter Croft, John Bachar, Tommy Caldwell.

Part of his inspiration also comes from majestic sights like El Capitan.

Check Out the Amazing Story of the Free Solo Documentary
Image source: Rolling Stone

Conclusion

Free Solo isn’t just a documentary about extreme sports, it’s a romantic drama, a risk-versus-reward meditation, and 100 minutes of horrifying, sweat-inducing, will-he-or-he-not-make-it action.

While knowing that Honnold succeeds, the uncertainty of the climb defies belief.  According to the documentary’s directors, the sheer weight of the danger almost ruined the film before getting off the ground.

As a character portrayal, the documentary is a profoundly honest and frank depiction of Honnold’s life, but also the intense conflict between director and subject in a setting that leaves no room for error.

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