Free Solo — Rock Climbing is Not a Pathology

Last night I finally got to watch Free Solo. There were a lot of things about it that bothered me, but I was not in the least bothered by Alex Honnold’s quest to climb El Cap without any protection at all. I was glad someone was at the top with ropes so he could get down, though.

I hate the idea that wanting to do something as absolutely mind-blowingly dangerous as climbing that enormous rock without protection is pathological, and that theory riffled through the film. Was his dad on the Asperger’s spectrum? Why didn’t his parents ever tell him, “I love you”? Did it cripple him emotionally that his mother only spoke French at home (French teacher)? Did the fact that his mother had high standards for his achievement (he was a gifted kid in school and she WAS a teacher) cause him to seek out ever more challenging scenarios to prove his worthiness? Did his parents’ divorce sour him on romantic love? Is he emotionally deficient that he can’t form romantic relationships easily with a hot, dimpled chick who sees in him the fulfillment of her biological urges? The film was full of this.

To make a film that would have a wider audience than just a climbing film might have? I dunno…

The only pathology I saw was that he stayed with his girlfriend after climbing with her caused him to get significant injuries TWICE because of her ignorance and negligence. Compression fractures in his spine and a severely sprained ankle? I’d be, you know, “Hey, Sweetcheeks, I don’t think you get it. Get out of my van.”

I don’t think wanting to climb El Cap without protection is pathological. Climbing El Cap has gone in that direction since the first time it was climbed (a three day adventure if I remember right). Relentlessly climbers have sought to climb that rock with less equipment and faster.
There was a lot in the movie about Honnold’s view of death. If you’re going to climb — particularly a big rock face without protection — you are choosing to risk your life. Not everyone can make that choice. For most of us, death is thrust upon us one way or another, but none of us gets out alive. I personally believe a person has a right to choose to risk his/her own life. I don’t think it’s a pathology at all, and Honnold seems to have taken personal responsibility for his decision. I liked his mom saying, “It is what makes him happy. Who am I to try to stop him?” or something to that effect.

Honnold practiced, planned, evaluated, did every possible kind of preparation to prevent the abysmal (see what I did?) outcome. It was no spontaneous stunt; it was something that he prepared for over the course of years, a lifetime, just as a ballerina might prepare for the moment she enters the stage — finally — as the prima ballerina.

BUT I guess straight climbing might not net an Academy Award. Maybe all the squishy interpersonal relationship stuff and psycho-babble makes the story of a man climbing a giant rock face more entertaining? Relatable? More like reality TV?

CAVEAT I don’t really “like” either Honnold or his girlfriend. They’re not my kind of people. Honnold is walking billboard for The North Face (fine, an athlete needs a sponsor) who knew how to create drama around his amazing ascent of El Cap, and his chick? She hit the gravy train with him. To me, legit anything is done without an audience, and these two are all about audience. It’s a different generation, I think. That said, I still like Reinhold Messner.

8 thoughts on “Free Solo — Rock Climbing is Not a Pathology

  1. I had never heard of Honnold or Free Solo before this post, Martha, and wouldn’t have given a shit about him or his movie had I heard about it. I’m all for letting people be who they wanna be and live their life they wanna live it as long as they don’t actively seek to hurt others, but as soon as they demand an audience, I’m out. Rock climbing holds no interest for me. Put simply, my take on it is they know the risks, if they die doing it oh well, at least they died doing something they love.

    • Yep. That’s how I feel about it, too (and how most rock climbers feel about it). I ended up pretty disgusted by this guy and not because of his climbing. He and his girlfriend are now “life coaches” which translates (to me) as “con artists.”

  2. My husband was telling me about this movie, and what he said made me not want to watch it. Now, I don’t want to watch it even more. Thanks for your honesty review, Martha. I guess I don’t care to watch a couple of life coaches on the big screen. I’d rather go take a hike. 😏

    • Me too. I’ve thought about this film since I wrote this review — and basically, this guy risked his life for fame and fortune MORE than to achieve an almost impossible climbing feat. His whole adventure was filmed. Cheesy whore (IMO) good climber or not.

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