By Lucas Owens ’19
Free Solo documents a few months in the life of free climber Alex Honnold as he plans and executes his climb of El Capitan just a few hours north of Bellarmine at Yosemite National Park, but where it surprised me the most is in the heartfelt story behind it instead of the heart-gripping, intense cinematography which won it this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Don’t get me wrong, the cinematography is absolutely amazing and is, in my opinion, some of the most well-done shots ever seen, but at its core, Free Solo doesn’t document just Honnold’s amazing climb of El Capitan, but more of what happened leading up to it, especially as it is pertaining to his surfacing relationship with Sanni McCandless.
Free Solo has a multifaceted documentary narrative that it brings forward. The film centers mostly on Honnold’s climb and his relationship with McCandless, as he tries to find love in a relationship with somebody for probably his first time in his life, but also takes the time to feature some pretty big ethical questions, including that of the production of such a dangerous climb and not wanting to interfere with that. This is because the production of the documentary began before Honnold decided to start the climb. In fact, it is a major part of the first half of the movie. Some in the production of Free Solo worried that he decided to climb El Capitan because of the documentary being done on his life, but Honnold insisted that they had no impact in the decision.
That still leaves open the question of how the production crew was going to shoot his daring climb. It was paramount to co-director Jimmy Chin that they do not interfere with his climb, so much so that he did not want anybody in his crew to even be in the eyesight of Honnold while he climbed up unassisted by anything. This added another layer of hardship on to the production, as not only did they have to climb and take these shots, but they had to so in a way that did not interrupt Honnold on his climb. All things considered, the achievement by Jimmy Chin and his production crew is absolutely staggering and well worth of all the praise given to them, as all of the shots are extremely breathtaking and awe-inspiring.
Free Solo’s narrative ties it all together, and overall the movie is a stunning achievement for documentary film making and deserves to be watched and analyzed for years to come.