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Perfection—or death. That’s the terrifying predicament Alex Honnold faces in Free Solo, National Geographic’s breathtaking, Academy Award-nominated documentary about the young rock climber’s two-year journey to complete the first-ever, free-solo ascent of Yosemite’s El Capitan peak. Filmed live as he made history in 2017, it’s a harrowing, vertigo-inducing cinematic experience.
For those unfamiliar with the terminology, it’s important to note that this isn’t “free climbing,” in which practitioners typically work in pairs and use back-up ropes for safety. “Free solo” means that Alex intends to make this technically demanding, 2,750-foot vertical ascent all by himself—without safety equipment. It’s just him and the mountain, and if that sounds crazy … well, that’s because it is. Even one misplaced foot, one misjudged reach, and Alex will plummet hundreds (or thousands) of feet to certain death.
Point - Free - Solo - Home - Way
This is a point Free Solo drives home by way of countless gravity-defying visual sequences. During one of my favorites, Alex explains the intricate maneuvers required at the most difficult pitch on the route. As he talks off-screen, we see him press his thumb into a tiny nub of granite barely large enough to receive it, then gingerly roll his fingers into an impossibly tenuous handhold, with which he braces for a cross-legged footing adjustment. A few minutes later, he “karate kicks” his left leg out into space, “falling” into an adjacent wall to reach the next ledge. Throughout this segment, the camera periodically cuts to a magnificent overhead perspective, granting viewers a sobering glimpse of the...
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