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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Free Solo’ is about more than just climbing

This Saturday, June 3, 2017, photo provided by National Geographic shows Alex Honnold atop El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, Calif., after he became the first person to climb alone to the top of the massive granite wall without ropes or safety gear. National Geographic recorded Honnold's historic ascent, saying the 31-year-old completed the "free solo" climb Saturday in nearly four hours. (Jimmy Chin / AP)

The most riveting scene in Free Solo, a blockbuster climbing documentary about free soloist Alex Honnold’s ropeless ascent of the 3,000-foot El Capitan, is shot in his van.

Honnold’s girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, asks him, “Would putting me in the equation actually ever change anything? Would you actually make decisions differently?”

He answers, “If I had some kind of obligation to maximize my lifespan, then yeah, obviously I’d have to give up soloing.”

“Do you see that as an obligation?” McCandless asks.

“No, no. I appreciate your concerns,” Honnold said. “I respect that, but I in no way feel obligated, no.”

That is the crux of the film, in my opinion.

It asks viewers to consider the balance between pursuing perfection, a theme Honnold discusses in the film, and committing to relationships, in all their messy imperfections and demands.

That makes “Free Solo” more than just a beautifully shot adventure film.

Don’t get me wrong, the climbing is jaw-dropping and inspiring.

But the interviews with Honnold, McCandless and Honnold’s friends brought out the real tension of what he does for a living far better than the high-definition shots of him hanging 2,000 feet off the deck with nothing but hands and feet.

That makes this film more than the standard adventure fare that is served by almost anyone with a GoPro and a DSLR.

While the superhuman physical and mental feats that Honnold is capable of are well beyond most (or perhaps all) of us, the film is, at its core, relatable.

Most of us have something about which we care passionately, whether it’s hunting, climbing, biking, writing, video games or knitting.

We may not speak in terms of perfection, but we are interested in getting better at our chosen passion. We admire those who have made it their life’s work to do so.

And yet, that sort of single-minded focus comes at a cost.

It’s a price many of us can’t or won’t pay, at least not fully. But it’s worth considering. Where is our own line? For what are we willing to sacrifice?

And is it worth it?