Media, Technology, and Education
Movie/TV Review

Free Solo

I loved this documentary. It tells the story of Alex Honnold‘s quest to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. What does it mean to free solo a climbing route? It means that the climber uses no ropes or other gear to protect against a fall. What does it mean to free solo El Capitan? It means that the climber uses no ropes or other great to protect against a fall off of a 3200 foot high slab of sheer granite. Honnold completed this task in 2017 in under four hours after much training and an aborted attempt in 2016. The documentary does a great job of explaining how amazing this accomplishment is. Fellow climber Tommy Caldwell said that this feat is the equivalent of winning an Olympic gold medal where if you don’t win, you die. It’s clear in the film that Honnold’s fellow climbers can hardly believe what they’re watching as he completes the task. Some of them can’t watch because of the fear that they will see him fall. There is a lot of debate in the film about whether they should be helping him to undertake such a risky climb but they ultimately realize that he’s going to try it with or without them so they wouldn’t be able to forgive themselves if he failed and they’d hadn’t helped him be prepared as possible. In fact, the only reason I didn’t give this movie five stars is because I worry that it will entice others to take on unnecessary risk in free soloing other big walls. The movie tries to make the risk absolutely clear but when Honnold actually gets to the climb, he actually makes it look easy! Unbelievable. I also enjoyed the focus on how Jimmy Chin and his camera crew were going to capture the event without getting in Honnold’s way or putting pressure on him to do something he didn’t feel ready to do. The camera crew expressed relief in 2016 when Honnold started the route and aborted it because he didn’t feel comfortable. That aborted attempt let them know that he wouldn’t do something just because the cameras were on him. I think even if you have never climbed a single rock, you would enjoy this documentary.

By myself (solo!) at Red River.

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I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.

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