Free Solo

The story of how one man was totally stoked to achieve excellent perfection by climbing a big rock.

Few human endeavors mix the questions of “how” and “why” quite like the climbing of mountains. Setting aside for the moment that Yosemite’s El Capitan is a rock formation and not a mountain, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary Free Solo follows climber Alex Honnold as he prepares to ascend El Capitan without a rope. It’s a notoriously dangerous climb that allows no margin for error — which is what attracts Honnold, an Adam Driver character just waiting to happen. His reasons for wanting to climb El Cap mostly boil down to his arbitrary conceptions of “perfection” and “excellence,” and he doesn’t get why his girlfriend Sanni might get upset that her presence in his life doesn’t make him less inclined to risk that life.

Chin and Vasarhelyi’s previous documentary Meru was necessarily more spectacular, being set in the snowy Himalayas rather than sunny Yosemite, and while Chin’s reasonably concerned that Free Solo could turn into a snuff film at any moment, it’s less of an adventure movie than an intense character study of a death-defying mega-bro. How much of a mega-bro? Let’s just say that if you take a drink every time you hear the word “stoked,” you will die as surely as if you tried to climb El Capitan without a rope.

Rated PG-13.
Opens Friday at the AMC Van Ness 14.

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