The prologue to Free Solo is Mountain: beginning appropriately with William Dafoe narrating over a solo climb of Hannold asking what is this “siren-song of the summit” that beckons man upward. A Malick-esque documentary that dives into the human drive to challenge the expanses of nature and the consequences therein of nature’s sound & fury. A dive into the psychology of fear that drives our inner beings into not only striving to sit at the summit, but also reaching the corners of our fears to lay atop the rock of Sisyphus. As Dafoe narrates: “the mountains we climb are the mountains of the mind.”
And so, it begins…
Free Solo is a mesmerizing feat behind the still-walls of Alex Honnold’s resolve to conquer Yosemite’s 3,000 foot El Capitan Wall through the glaze of surrounding concerns and dangers with a brain uniquely tasked for the challenge. Certainly nothing as impressive as this will likely be achieved in my lifetime and what really makes Free Solo special is the serendipitous moments along the way that build suspense and curiosity despite the end being preordained. Here was a man dedicated to mastering the massive rock, inch-by-inch. A manic, on the edge of the precipice, reminiscent of those words of G.K. Chesterton on doctrine:
I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing.
What makes this film even more special is the quirky character of Hannold whose dedication and personality complex makes his dry, at times, callous aloofness to the surrounding humanity, instrumental to becoming the indifference of Nature in order to overcome Nature’s veritable relics. There was a moment where Hannold returns to the domesticated day-to-day monotony of existence and almost seems to surrender to the void of safety. And yet, he returns, in an almost brilliant anti-climactic assault with The Wall as a fitting reminder that in most great battles, it is the anticipation that often shatters our resolve.
But not this day.