Free Solo (2018)
May 20, 2019 7:58 AM - Subscribe

Follow Alex Honnold as he attempts to become the first person to ever free solo climb Yosemite's 3,000 foot high El Capitan wall. With no ropes or safety gear, this would arguably be the greatest feat in rock climbing history. Trailer
posted by the man of twists and turns (18 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
more comments and discussion at this FanFare Talk post
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:59 AM on May 20, 2019

I thought this was an effective movie. I'm an avid climber (or was until a seizure condition grounded me) I've climbed an "easy" route in Yosemite and Honnold and other free soloists are odd characters in climbing.

Imagine if the most famous race car driver wasn't in nascar or formula one but a dude who drove a lot slower than that but on those same courses, but he drove a convertible without a helmet, suit or seat-belt. Now he's not the best, he's not the fastest, but he's deliberately putting himself in the most danger and thus is the face of your sport. It's weird.

There are not surprisingly very split camps of "this dude is awesome" and "this dumbshit is a terrible example"

While the movie is a hero's tale for Honnold I do like that it at least dips its toes into the parts of his life negatively impacted by actions, namely every relationship he has. But ultimately it certainly felt more like a glorification than a condemnation. I actually liked the making of web-videos better as how they filmed it was more compelling than the climb. Because of course he can climb it, that's the whole point of his approach, he climbs things far below his max skills to ensure success. And the movie wasn't called "fall"
posted by French Fry at 9:24 AM on May 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

I had a hard time coming away with anything but disgust at the man. He struck me as an intensely manipulative and self-centered person- perhaps necessary for him to achieve what he's done, but at the end of the day, what was the value of his achievement? While it was a compelling movie, the wreckage he's made of his relationships with others- and the exploitation inherent in filming- left me feeling sorry for the other people in his life, and annoyed that I participated in that exploitation by watching it. Felt like watching Nascar for the wrecks.
posted by jenkinsEar at 9:32 AM on May 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Given that the filmmakers are his friends (or at least colleagues), I thought they did a decent job of making clear that he has pretty deep psychological and emotional problems. The climb was one of the most stressful things I've ever sat through - my palms were literally sweating, and I've always thought people were exaggerating when they say things like that - but what's sticking with me is his character, what motivates him to do what he does.
posted by something something at 9:50 AM on May 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

Compelling movie about an interesting guy. He used to climb a lot with Hazel Findlay who also made a soloing film recently. It's hard to categorise the climb; it's the longest hard route to have been soloed? I think the hardest recorded solo is still Macleod on Darwin Dixit? Not that it's a really competitive thing, or that El Cap bears much relation to an anonymous wee crag in Spain.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 10:09 AM on May 20, 2019

What was interesting to me as opposed to say, the Dawn Wall, is the differences they have to go through filming. I never felt quite as dialed into the climb because of the limitations of it being a free solo. In the Dawn Wall I felt they were really able to capture and show holds and what they looked like. This naturally had a bit more distance and reserve.

As for Honnold, I liked watching his Wired interview, where he breaks down different rock climbing scenes.
posted by Carillon at 10:10 AM on May 20, 2019

There was an interesting moment in this where he and some other free solo climbers are talking about living with the constant possibilty of death, and it felt very much like listening to soldiers talk about being in a combat zone.
posted by joeyh at 2:58 PM on May 20, 2019

I couldn’t finish this movie because he was such a dick to his girlfriend.
posted by mai at 4:26 PM on May 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I wanted the girlfriend to dump his ass so badly. I was sort of torn about this movie, given that I mostly see the glorification of free climbing (and other extreme sports) as an encouragement for Darwin Awards. Honnold's monomania was kind of interesting to me--his thoughts that climbing was something he could do while painfully shy, or that after finishing the solo he returns to his van to practice finger holds--but ultimately the strongest part of the film, for me, was the filmmakers thinking about their own culpability in this, particularly if Honnold had fallen.
posted by TwoStride at 4:35 PM on May 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

I dunno, I mean, the movie seems to address pretty squarely that Honnold is a weird dude. Not to play armchair psychologist, but he probably fits a DSM diagnosis somewhere. I thought it was a solid movie.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:00 PM on May 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I feel about Alex Honnold the way I feel about a rock star with a famous substance abuse problem. While I hope things eventually turn out ok I just know that one of these days I'm going to read about his death. In Honnold's case, that will involve his friends and park employees scraping his from a rock.

This was a great film about a very complex subject. I was glad they made the act of filming it part of the film. As they said, just by filming it they might have been affecting the outcome. I really felt for that one cameraman who couldn't even look. I once watched a kid jump down into a subway line and retrieve a basketball that was leaning against the third rail and I did the same thing... I just turned away in case the worst happened.

My guess is there will be an increase in preventable climbing deaths in the next couple of years after a bunch of inexperienced yahoos decide they want to be free climbers. I hope I'm wrong.
posted by bondcliff at 1:18 PM on May 21, 2019

I agree, this was an incredibly compelling film about a very troubled and troubling subject. I was struck by the parallel between Alex and Sanni (his girlfriend) who are both committed to things that they must know at some level will eventually hurt them. For Alex it's the free climbing, and for Sanni it's Alex.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:16 AM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

I found an interview with Alex Huber who found/developed the Freerider route: El Capitan Freerider: Alexander Huber Yosemite masterpiece celebrates 20th anniversary - "Did you imagine that one day Freerider would become so popular?
Yes, even back in 1995 I knew that the Freerider would soon become very popular. For me, Freerider is something like Astroman 2000, because it was the equivalent to Astroman, but for the new millennium. It’s by far the easiest free climb up El Capitan, in an amazing location."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:24 AM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd be surprised if we see a significant number of free solo deaths from copycats. It's not something that is dangerous in a "sneaky" sense. If you get 20' off the ground without a rope, every part of your alligator brain is telling you that it's dangerous and you should be scared.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:33 PM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

there have been two deaths from unprotected climbing on el cap alone since the movie was made.
posted by French Fry at 6:40 PM on May 22, 2019

there have been two deaths from unprotected climbing on el cap alone since the movie was made.

it sounds like you know more about rock climbing than i do, but from what i read, the two climbers who died last year were roped together. they weren't free soloing. so why connect their deaths to Honnold and the film?
posted by entropone at 6:20 AM on May 23, 2019

From the reports I read they were simul-climbing with what seems to be super limited protection. That's why I called it "unprotected" as it's one of many methods designed to minimize protection and gear and time when one climber is not climbing. This is IMHO nearly as dangerous as free soloing as many types of falls will lead to death or injury or if protection holds, hanging potentially stranded.

But there is also a stimga around free solo deaths. I've know at least one local climber in NE who fell recently , he was known to free solo, but the story was that he fell setting up his top rope protection... but it was on a wall too high and too lateral for a top rope. But you don't want to tell some kids parents "your son died trying to be cool" so the anchor point set up accident is harmless salve. I think this happens and obscures stats on the dangers of free soloing.

I've certainly personally seen a lot more people solo'd up on short (but honestly still fatal) walls around here lately when I take my daughter out to climb. They are easy routes, but it's granite and it's NE so it's often wet and often cold. In the autumn saw a kid break his damn leg in VT, sat with him till the EMTs got there and tried real hard not to give him TOOOOOO much of a dad speech about it. Probably only fell 12 feet.
posted by French Fry at 7:08 AM on May 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

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