Welcome to What’s That DVD – a new feature on Book Club Mom…because great stories come in many formats!
I recently watched a documentary that can only be described as both amazing and vicariously terrifying. Free Solo is the story of Alex Honnold, a professional adventure rock climber who, with only his hands and feet, scaled El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. El Capitan is the world’s most famous rock, 3000 feet of petrifying vertical ascent. Honnold is the only person to attempt this dangerous climb, and he succeeded at doing the impossible!
Free Solo won the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin are the award-winning husband-wife team. (Read about them in the LA Times here.) In their documentary, they introduce Honnold, a climber with extraordinary focus and drive. The term free solo means no ropes, no people, nothing but climber and rock. When Honnold agreed to be filmed on the ground and up on the rock (via drone), Vasarhelyi and Chin faced difficult challenges…and moral decisions. How to film his climb without interfering? Because any distraction could mean death. And what to do if he fell?
Honnold prepared by climbing, and climbing El Capitan with ropes, learning every ledge and crevice, which he would somehow grip and hang onto. He did this with a super-human ability to manage risk and remove the emotion from the task at hand.
Even though I knew he would succeed, my stomach dropped each time I saw him hanging by seemingly nothing on a precarious straight-up cliff. My hands and feet were sweating through the last half-hour of the film.
When someone does something this impossible, we want to know the story behind the story. This is where Vasarhelyi and Chin excel. What kind of person attempts such a dangerous climb? And how did Honnold become a climber? As much a part of Honnold’s story is his girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, who openly discusses their relationship. How they function as a couple. How she loves a man who puts this challenge ahead of everything else. He knows he could die and tells her that’s okay, she’ll move on. That’s a tough statement. Honnold and McCandless are such an adorable couple, I hope he “hangs on” to her too!
Honnold’s memoir, Alone on the Wall, was published in 2018. For more about Honnold and his book visit alexhonnold.com.
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