The subject of free soloing (climbing sheer face of rock with no rope) is compelling, more so for me because I didn’t even know it was a thing until I saw this movie. You travel with Alex Sonnold as he attempts the greatest climb of his life, the 900 meter El Capitan in Yellowstone, which seems particularly reckless in that he’s just weeks off a sprained ankle.
The climb is gripping. The psychological portrait of the climber less so. He appears to be a bit disassociative, almost numb, which lessens your investment in him. For example, he has the cutest damn girlfriend you’ve ever seen, and she’s clearly crazy about him. As such, his risks in the face of such riches would seem casually cruel if he weren’t a bit of a deadened weirdo.
Indeed, the film is about Alex doing something that may well kill him (free soloists die pretty regularly) and voluntarily having it filmed. The pre-bout navel-gazing (his family never hugged or used the word “love”) and awkward, searching exchanges with his documentarians feel like artificial injections to elicit empathy. They are only so effective.
Would this be tolerable if he was more human, more flesh and bone? Should that matter? Should I feel bad that the movie feels long when it has offered me a “he lives or he dies” finale?
My ethical quandaries aside, watch this on the biggest TV you have. The visuals are stunning and the achievement monumental.