'Free Solo' chronicles efforts of mountain climber to work without aid of ropes or harnesses

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

The impressive Oscar-nominated documentary, directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, is not the kind of movie you want to be watching if you have a fear of heights.

Jimmy Chin/National Geographic
Alex Honnold free solo climbs El Capitan's Freerider in Yosemite National Park in 'Free Solo.'

The impressive Oscar-nominated documentary “Free Solo,” directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, is not the kind of movie you want to be watching if you have a fear of heights. It’s about Alex Honnold, a mountain climber whose goal is to scale the almost-3,000-foot sheer granite vertical face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without the aid of any ropes or harnesses. 

Now I’ve long held the belief that people such as Honnold or Philippe Petit or Evel Knievel are not so much brave as lacking the ability to feel fear. And sure enough, a scientist in the movie does a brain scan of Honnold and discovers that his amygdala – the section of the brain researchers say is responsible for detecting fear, among other functions – is practically a no-show. Since it’s clear from the get-go that Honnold survived his climb, I suppose we can all breathe easier watching his quest, but the question for me remains: Why on earth would anybody do this? Grade: B+ (Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.)

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