The documentary, Free Solo, about mountain climber Alex Honnold attempt to scale El Capitan without the aid of ropes or climbing gear of any kind, demonstrates the reasons for his improbable success. Observation, practice, repeat 40 times or as necessary until it becomes muscle memory that will prevent that one deadly mistake.
The final climb, when it occurs, is gut clenching phenomenal, dizzyingly fast, executed to perfection with absolutely no fear. Fear, as a mid film MRI, reveals is totally absent from Honnold’s part of his brain responsible for producing it.
Perfection is the reason why Honnold free solos. That is also the strength and flaw of Free Solo. There is so much practice, observation, execution, tunneling into Honnold’s minutest thoughts and philosophy on climbing that the final ascent lacks surprise. Fear is left for the videographers, his girl friend and the audience to feel.
The final feeling is exasperation for how long the film takes to get to that final climb and relief when it is over. Free Solo frustrates us with excess observation and preparation but when it climbs, it soars.