Alex Honnold is super fit, lives in a van and eats his food with a shovel like implement. That is until he has a girlfriend, which isn't exactly what he wants in case it interferes with his concentration to pursue his ambition to climb mountains. Not just any mountain. El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California. How? Without any ropes or aids, just hands and feet.
So starts an 8-year journey. To practice, practice, practice until the day comes when he is ready to climb the unclimbable mountain, alone and unaided. The directors, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin document the years as Alex and a climbing buddy prepare him for the morning he wakes up and walks towards the mountain. No fanfare, just starts climbing, reaches the top, gives the camera a wide grin and rings his girlfriend, as you do! No spoiler alert, he does achieve his goal, and we aren't watching an unusual man fall to his death.
It takes 4 hours for Alex to climb El Capitan, the camera crew watch the entire climb. The audience only about half an hour, but it is an amazing experience to watch Alex as he climbs and occasionally turns and smiles at the camera.
The select few who chose to try and defy death climbing the mountains of the world using their bare hands and feet are few and far between. Not many live to a ripe old age and Alex is philosophical about his chances of losing concentration and falling to his death. He does believe that life isn't about the pursuit of happiness for him. He is a warrior and wants to face his fears and conquer them.
The medical world was interested in what makes Alex tick. An MRI was conducted and yes, Alex is different to you and me. He has a dysfunction in his amygdala, a small pea-sized structure in the brain that among other functions, processes fear. Fear and alarm are emotions foreign to Alex.
Free Solo is showing at various cinemas and will no doubt be repeated over the following years. An unusual film.