When I went to see Free Solo I was amazed, bewildered, and shocked. It was a film so deep and emotional, something seemed to separate it from so many other films of its kind. Alex Honnold, Free Solo climber, someone who climbs without ropes or a harness, sets his sight toward El Capitan, a rock so huge it had never been free soloed let alone climbed before. The film follows the preparation and the people around Alex as he attempts to make one of the most incredible climbs in human history.
What is great about this film is not whether or not he makes it, but rather its focus on Alex’s preparation and difficulties as well as how the people around him deal with the possibility of him falling to his death. It is gripping and fascinating stuff, but the true star is not Alex but rather his girlfriend Sanni McCandless, as she becomes our voice to Alex in many ways.”I do not understand why he wants this.” When she asks would you rethink your climbing priorities with me he bluntly says “No but I appreciate your concern.”
Watching him climb is gripping and thrilling stuff but going through Alex’s life is what sets this film apart. The director Jimmy Chin, who after Alex finishes his climb says, “That is a huge weight off my shoulders.” In order to understand that weight you should watch Meru, available on Netflix. Jimmy Chin directs as he and his friends Conrad Ankman and Renan Ozturk attempt to climb a Mountain that has never been summited before, the Shark’s Fin at Meru. Jimmy this time gets more personal focus and his family dynamic is once again fascinating. It is just as if not more brutal than Free Solo, but just as captivating. It gives the insight into not only Jimmy’s life but the climbing life as well.
I encourage you to watch both films as they are great showcases of not just the sport of climbing, but also the human experience. The highs, lows, trials and tribulations all add up to an incredibly brilliant set of documentaries that I think go together incredibly well. For Free Solo I give a 9.5, and for Meru I give up an 8.5. Free Solo is a better film but both are great in their own way and I recommend watching both together.