Free Solo Parent Guide
Stunning cinematography provides an astoundingly beautiful backdrop for a man's death-defying challenge.
Parent Movie Review
Winner of 2019’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Free Solo follows lifelong climber Alex Honnold as he tries to do what has never been done before: a free solo (meaning without any safety equipment) climb of El Capitan, a 3,000 foot granite face in Yosemite National Park. The film focuses on Alex’s motivations and training, as well as the feelings and experiences of those close to him. Although Alex is confident that he can make the climb, having done roped climbs dozens of times before, will his confidence last when he goes up alone? And how will his willingness to risk his life affect his relationships?
As someone who gets vertigo trying to put up Christmas lights on a bungalow, you can imagine my anxiety watching someone scale a 3,000 foot rock wall without safety equipment. My hands were sweating so much I wrinkled a page in my notebook, which is a first. And all of that is with the knowledge that Alex survives this climb - hardly a spoiler, since this film would have been marketed very differently if he hadn’t. I can hardly imagine what the stress must have been like, not only for Alex’s girlfriend Sanny, but for the film crew of professional climbers, hanging down the face of El Capitan and watching him make the ascent in real time.
Those dedicated professionals are to be credited for one of this film’s most incredible assets: the cinematography. While Yosemite is a beautiful location from any perspective, these camera operators dangled off of a cliff to get some of the most stunning landscape shots I have ever seen. Additionally, they managed to get incredible close-up shots of Alex while staying far enough out of his way to avoid distracting him or accidentally bumping loose rocks down onto him, a mistake that could have had fatal consequences.
Beyond the aesthetics, though, Free Solo is an incredibly human story, focusing as much or more on Alex Honnold as a character study as it does on his incredible climb. Alex comes out as a quirky, awkward, shy man, hyper-fixated on his passion almost to the exclusion of all else. Seeing him slowly become more emotionally open throughout the film is one of the most amazing revelations in it. Sanny, his girlfriend, comes across as a patient, caring, and certainly long-suffering person, and the film does an excellent job of documenting the emotional effort required to manage both Alex, his dangerous hobby, and their relationship.
Parental concerns are limited to a few examples of profanity- admittedly, perhaps some of the most justified cussing in cinema. If I were watching a close friend hanging thousands of feet off the ground, gripping a ledge no thicker than a pencil, I would be hard pressed not to let out some verbal venting. That being said, parents with anxious children might want to skip this one, since the peril portrayed on screen is both real and dire. For entirely different reasons, parents with impulsive children might want to skip out as well.
Free Solo walks a thin wire between character study and record-setting athletic achievement and does it very well. Alex is fully realized not just as an unbelievable climber but as a quiet, focused man with some deep-seated emotional difficulties. His ascent becomes more than just a feat of human ability, but a personal story of drive, determination, and the need to reach unimaginable goals. That said, I’m still going to ask my neighbor to help me put up my Christmas lights.Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin. Starring Alex Honnold, Sanni McCandless, Jimmy Chin, Tommy Caldwell. Running time: 100 minutes. Updated February 26, 2019
Watch the trailer for Free Solo
Rating & Content Info
Why is Free Solo rated PG-13? Free Solo is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for brief strong language
Violence: No violence is shown. Several fatal climbing accidents are discussed but not shown. Footage is briefly shown of an accident in which an individual suffered a badly sprained ankle, although it is edited in such a way that no part of the injury is shown.
Sexual Content: None.
Profanity: There are perhaps half a dozen terms of deity and mild profanities, as well as two moderate swears and one extreme profanity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None.
Page last updated February 26, 2019
Free Solo Parents' Guide
Obviously, Alex’s passion is massively risky. Do you think he should be more concerned about the feelings of his family and friends, or do you think he should be free to pursue his dream?
This kind of climbing seems to be very rewarding to Alex. Can you think of some other dreams that may be dangerous to pursue? Are they worthwhile even if they do carry these hazards?
Read books about Free Solo
If the film hasn’t scared you to death and you want to know more about free solo climbing, you can check out Alex Honnold’s book about the sport, Alone on the Wall. For more detail on the ascent of El Capitan, head for Mark Synott’s work, The Impossible Climb: Alex Honnold, El Capitan, and the Climbing Life.
If you want to enjoy stunning views of Yosemite National Park without risking your neck, you will likely enjoy Ansel Adams’ photo book, Yosemite. Or you can admire the photos in National Geographic Greatest Landscapes: Stunning Photographs that Inspire and Astonish.