The first shot of this documentary is disorienting as well as jaw dropping. The top angle shot, with the camera floating out of the edge of a cliff capturing rock climber Alex Hannold astutely manoeuvring his way to the top of the cliff, gets you drawn to the screen.
The following shots clearly show how, with no life supports, Alex dexterously free climbs the most spectacular and arguably longest and hardest sandstone climb in the world. This (free solo – a form of rock climbing) is arguably one of the most dangerous, death defying sports as the climber or free soloist performs alone and without using any ropes, harnesses or any other protective equipment, relying entirely on their ability instead.
Combining the ideas of a daunting itch that pushes an individual’s drive to the literal edge and that of the worth of attaining that itch, directors Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s “Free Solo” presents this dilemma of maximizing life in thrills rather than length. Most part of the documentary is watching Alex prepare his biggest-ever free solo, scaling Yosemite National Park’s 3,000 ft granite El Capitan with nothing but a bag full of chalk powder.
Apart from capturing the unbelievable artistic feat, the film leads you into the psyche of Alex, a loner by choice and portrays his relationships with his parents, Charles Forrest Honnold and Dierdre Wolownick and girlfriend Sanni McCandles. The film is brutally honest, inclusive of a guilt quotient, in its presentation and messaging.
He tells us: “Not falling in a bottomless pit, is definitely the motivation of my survival.” On another instance, he states that free soloing is more difficult and risky than participating in the Olympics, because if you fail at the Olympics you can still survive, but not in the case of free solo.
He reveals: “If you are seeking perfection, free solo is closest you can get. It does feel good to feel perfect, like for a brief moment.”
And at the same time you realise that he is hard-headed and pragmatic when he says, “If I kill myself in an accident, then it would be bad, but then life goes on, you know and they (friends and girlfriend) would be fine, they’ll move on in life.”
His action is motivating and so is his spirit. He tells us, “When you are pushing to the edge, you find the edge.”
He tells us he is not different from being the boy next door, but then he reminds you that to do free solo, you need to have a “warrior’s spirit”.
Apart from the subject, what makes this film amazing is the cinematography. Director Chin, Clair Popkin and Mikey Schaefer have managed to capture Alex from various angles and positions, you could ever think possible. The visuals are accompanied by Marco Beltrami’s pulsating background score.
Overall, FREE SOLO is probably the most dizzyingly fascinating as well as nerve wracking documentary ever.
By Troy Ribeiro, IANS