Looking Back at 2010s Films: Free Solo (2018)

9 Oct


By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, I’ve done a lot of Oscars-bashing lately while doing this series. But now, for this one, I don’t have to. They recognized this harrowing documentary for exactly what it was: the year’s best documentary.

“But wait!” you may say. “What about ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’?! That was the highest-grossing documentary of 2018 and it was SNUBBED!” Well…we already knew ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ would be something special because we knew who Fred Rogers was and appreciated the film for simply being a biographical documentary about the man and his life. It didn’t have to take many chances. It was very good at being what it was, but what else was it going to be?

But “Free Solo” was something new. It was a harrowing doc about a free-solo climber who set out to free climb Yosemite’s El Capitan–its elevation, 3,000 feet!

I believe the word you’re searching for is “GULP!”

Yeah, Alex Honnold became the first (and only, so far) climber to free solo that particular high-as-heaven climb up El Capitan. (Captain Kirk tried it in “Star Trek V”…he didn’t make it; in fact, he could’ve freaking DIED!) And this is a documentary that chronicles the event after taking the time to allow us to get to know him. There are people who will miss him if he falls, and there’s always going to be that very real possibility that he will fall.

Most of the film shows how Alex is going to pull this off, even if he has to consider rough areas where he slips (with a rope attached to him) that he can’t mess up on when he does it without support. This raises the suspense when we do see him ultimately go for it.

Just because we know the outcome (that he doesn’t fall–I hope that’s not a spoiler) doesn’t mean there isn’t tension when we see him go through with it. I’m terrified of heights, and my heart went out to this guy as I watched him climb this damn thing without anything to catch him if he falls. (The filmmakers themselves fear it too–they know they could be making a snuff film if something goes wrong!) There’s a lot of anxiety and suspense that leaps off the screen during this final act, and the fact that he pulled it off and that everyone was able to capture it from different angles (without breaking Alex’s concentration) is a testament to the hard work that went into this ordeal.

When it’s over, I feel like cheering for everyone involved. And I guess the Oscar voters did too.

One Response to “Looking Back at 2010s Films: Free Solo (2018)”


  1. Prepping for My Top 20 Films of the 2010s | Smith's Verdict - November 26, 2019

    […] True Lives of Interesting People—“Three Identical Strangers,” “Stories We Tell,” “Big Sonia,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” “Rich Hill,” “Man Shot Dead,” “West of Memphis,” “Love, Antosha,” “Amy,” “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind,” “Free Solo” […]

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