Free Solo

Alex Honnold in “Free Solo” | Dogwoof Films

 

“This is your path and you will pursue it with excellency.”

 
El Capitan, a 1,000 m (3,000 feet) high rock face in Yosemite Park, California. Alex Honnold, free soloist. To “free solo” means to climb without ropes or any safety gear. The documentary Free Solo, directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, presents how Alex ventured and succeeded to climb hand-over-foot the famed El Capitan, “the most beautiful monolith on Earth”, as he calls it.

I still can not grasp what I watched last night. A supernatural climb, one of the most dangerous and terrifying endeavors imaginable, a superhuman, unique accomplishment. I knew it would end well, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, keeping telling myself as I refused to relax while watching it: this is not fiction, this is not sheer adrenaline-inducing entertainment, this is no just a movie, this did occur in real time, in real life, this could have gone terribly wrong, as it has for other free soloists. Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin addressed the moral issue of their documentary in The New York Times. And Alex Honnold himself is questioning in the documentary whether his attempt loses some of its importance just because they are making a film about it.

It deeply moved me. It’s not just because of Alex’s physical and mental agility, his drive, his focus, his fearlessness. It’s about pursuing one’s own path from pure instinct and from the sole reason that that is what makes him and just him happy. Because it is his calling, his destiny, in the same sense in which a samurai’s path, abiding by his own code of conduct and sacrifice, is his destiny. There is actually a sequence in the film from during a training session in Morocco in preparation for this attempt, where Alex brings into discussion the warrior mentality of a samurai. This kind of thing may not make sense to anybody else, especially that there must be an ounce of craziness in it. But it doesn’t have to make sense to anybody else. Because every big dream, regardless of what kind of dream it is, involves a little bit of obsessive impulse and madness. It is what it means to you that counts. It is a film that leaves you endlessly inspired and that makes you reevaluate all those little, mundane things, hundrum concerns that daily take up your time, and most importantly, your mind. The thing is, they don’t matter, that’s not what really matters at all. And if you have ever had a life-threatening experience in your life, you’ll know what I mean. Your perspective shifts completely and you should remind yourself daily to never lose sight of it. It’s about pushing your limits, taking risks, being mindful of your choices and of how you spend your time, living an intentional life.

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