Free Solo


Free Solo is the story of Alex Honnold, a 33-year-old who got it into his stubborn skull to do something no one else has done: ascend the “3000 feet of sheer granite” that is Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan, all without the pesky business of a safety harness. It’s an Oscar-winning documentary that will give you more heart palpitations and sweaty palms than some of the most accomplished horror films out there, with its fair share of vertigo-inducing shots that are simultaneously stunning and terrifying. The camerawork is as vertiginously breathtaking as you’d expect from the filmmakers behind the 2015 documentary Meru, with the climbing filmed by Jimmy Chin and his team of accomplished climbers – make sure you catch it on the biggest screen you can find.

Chin co-directs with Elizabeth Chai Vasarhely and together, they craft, on a primary level, an immersive and dizzying documentary about an all-engulfing passion. On a deeper level, they focus on the psychology behind Honnold’s actions, and the film becomes a thought-provoking portrait of an inherently unbalanced relationship, as we initially follow Alex’s story from his perspective and, in the second half, increasingly through the POV of his new and already long-suffering girlfriend Sanni. She is in many ways the audience proxy: she tries to get through to her emotionally stunted partner, attempting to come to terms with what many would dismiss as thrill-seeking behaviour bordering on a cavalier death-wish. He clearly states that his lifestyle is antithetical to forming long-lasting romantic relationships and as a character study, Free Solo is noteworthy in the way it addresses the ‘why’ behind Honnold’s obsession. He has the attitude of an overgrown man-child who may be on the spectrum, and who represents a form of masculine self-absorption that shields itself behind sporting ambition. Crucially, the film digs into this and is never over-reverent to its central protagonist or blind to the way his drive negatively affects those around him, whether it be Sanni or the filmmakers themselves, who are aware they could be prepping to film someone’s final climb.

Free Solo | Directed by Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhely (US, 2018). Starts March 21.

Check our OV search engine for showtimes.