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Friday, March 08, 2019

Review: Free Solo

Free Solo is the movie about Alex Honnold's free solo of the El Capitan. I watched it because my wife had taken Bowen indoor rock climbing and he'd enjoyed it. I've personally never really gotten excited about climbing: it seems like a lot of effort for not very much reward, but there's obviously a certain amount of machismo in the climbing culture, especially as far as free-solo climbing is concerned: it always seems to be about who can do the most dangerous thing while coming out on the other side alive.

I enjoyed the sections where Honnold would practice and try out different approaches to the climb (while roped). I felt like the movie didn't actually have enough of those: to see the amount of practice and preparation that went into something like this. The movie spent a ton of time on his relationships, and not enough on his notebooks and very little introspection as to how he knew he was ready.

There's a tiny bit of brain science, where Alex is put into an MRI scanner and showed that his amygdala is pretty much difficult to activate. That could explain why he's able to stay calm through situations that others would find frightening, and also why he's driven to seek out such especially perilous experiences.

Arturo asked me if I thought the movie was morally responsible, since there'll be some idiots who'll be inspired to free solo and then die doing it because they're not as competent/talented/dedicated/self-aware as Alex Honnold seems to be. My response was that "Well, sure. Some idiot's going to do that, but I'm also not a person with a lot of sympathy for idiots. I showed the last 20 minutes to Bowen and he said: `That's even more scary than descending Stelvio!'"

Nevertheless, the cinematography is amazing, the shots are stunning, and the glimpse into a life dedicated almost monastically to a sport was fun enough to watch. Recommended.

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