FILM UNFILTERED – ‘Free Solo’ is a breathtaking adventure

FILM UNFILTERED – ‘Free Solo’ is a breathtaking adventure

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When I was younger, I remembered seeing “Star Trek V: The Voyage Home” in the theater and it had a very down-to-earth opening sequence involving Captain James T. Kirk climbing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park with no ropes. Of course, it was all via the magic of special effects and William Shatner did not actually perform that amazing feat.

Nowadays, in our instantaneous, no-waiting digital and video on-demand society you could watch that movie or, as I did this past week on Disney+, the mesmerizing documentary film “Free Solo.”

When Disney launched the streaming service it also included the National Geographic channel which it had acquired earlier and it has some excellent original programming, least of which is this amazing film about free solo climber Alex Honnold, pictured.

The film focuses not only on his nearly impossible, if not infeasible, quest to scale this 3,300-foot-tall sheer granite rock face with towering trees below that look like matchsticks, but also on his personal life.

Honnold is certainly a unique individual and as driven as he may be to complete his task, he lacks emotion both to his girlfriend and his mother, and on more than one occasion during the film some of the cameramen actually refer to him as Spock. Spock was the half human/half Vulcan science officer on Star Trek who fought his emotions and buried them at every opportunity.

The film explores not just Honnold’s rock-climbing history and how he started, but it also explores the apparent breakdown of his family, when, in his eyes, his parents divorced. The documentary spends quite some time looking at the two women involved in Honnold’s life and it’s clear that his mother regrets some of the decisions she made raising him, and his girlfriend, Sanni, wants nothing more than for him to show and accept love.

Honnold is a very quirky and solitary person and he finds it hard to let people into his very small circle. There are some deeper, self-reflective looks into Honnold’s inner turmoil and at times you wonder how he continues pushing human interaction away in exchange for cold rock.

But the real tale to be told here are the breathtaking visuals captured by both drone footage and skilled cameramen who are also climbers and monitor Honnold’s progress. The scale and perspective captured by this documentary crew is utterly amazing, particularly when Honnold is attempting to ascend a troublesome spot on the side of the mountain and he is utilizing ropes. It ends up being an attempt that takes numerous tries and he loses his grip quite a few times and it’s harrowing to watch each time!

During one other nail-biting moment, even one of the producers has to turn away from the viewfinder of his camera because he simply cannot bring himself to watch as Honnold attempts to traverse one of the most challenging and dangerous parts of the rock face. To watch this human endeavor play out is fascinating and cringe-worthy.

The long-running question of “can he do it?” and “will he do it?” seesaws back and forth a few times and Honnold questions his own confidence and ability. This was an excellent exercise in perseverance and patience and an enjoyable documentary to watch that didn’t have a deeper underlying political slant.