FREE SOLO is More Suspense Thriller than Documentary

For someone with a debilitating fear of heights FREE SOLO was a movie I was keen to see in the comfort of a cinema but was also a movie I had to cover my eyes for during the actual trailer. For me the skill of a movie is what kind of emotions can it elicit. I cry hard in sad films and horror is one of my favourite genres because the emotion of fear is incredibly powerful. Anything that can alter my sense of being so much deserves respect. FREE SOLO has all my respect because it bloody petrified me!

FREE SOLO dropped today (Jan 24th 2019) in Australian cinemas from the lovely peeps at Madman Films. It is rated M (should be R it was so scary haha) and runs for 100mins.

Free Solo Alex Honnold image
Alex Honnold



From award-winning documentary filmmaker E. Chai Vasarhelyi (MERU) and world-renowned photographer and mountaineer Jimmy Chin comes National Geographic Documentary Film’s FREE SOLO, a stunning, intimate and unflinching portrait of the free soloist climber Alex Honnold, as he prepares to achieve his lifelong dream: climbing the face of the world’s most famous rock… the 3,000ft El Capitan in Yosemite National Park… without a rope.

Celebrated as one of the greatest athletic feats of any kind, Honnold’s climb set the ultimate standard: perfection or death. Succeeding in this challenge, Honnold enters his story in the annals of human achievement. FREE SOLO is both an edge-of-your seat thriller and an inspiring portrait of an athlete who exceeded our current understanding of human physical and mental potential. The result is a triumph of the human spirit.

Free Solo Alex Honnold image
Alex Climbing


FREE SOLO is as close to perfect as a documentary can be. Firstly, the focus of the documentary, the subject: Alex Honnold. Possibly one of the most charming and interesting people you can meet. He lives a simple life, he is lovable, good looking, determined and to a large extent spiritual. He lives on another plane of existence. One where he has no fear and conquers Titans on a daily basis. You genuinely love this man while watching the movie. He lives on or over an edge of life most of us wouldn’t even consider. Because of him and FREE SOLO we can see how a life of a life warrior on the edge looks like, and we can experience from the comfort of a recliner with a wine and popcorn in hand.

Secondly, the subject matter. Alex has decided to take on an unbeatable Titan and put his skills on the line. One simple mistake means death, no second chances. And the hardest part. The film crew recording him, while being some of the best rock climbing film crew in the world, are all friends of Alex. In a lot of the more harrowing scenes they have the cameras recording but they cannot watch because they cannot see their friend fall through their frame to a splat on the ground. You feel their pain, I looked away a lot of the time.

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Alex is on Another Level


Thirdly, the film is a psychological observance, you get completely immersed in Alex’s mindset and his motives, drive and heart. Everything is about climbing for him, it is more important than his relationship and his girlfriend has come to accept it. His friends die regularly because they fall off cliffs and splat. His attitude “what do they expect?” It might read as callous but that is Alex, he is honest and he knows what his life entails. As far as rock climbing goes he is one of the most intelligent in the field and everything, pretty much to the last millimeter, has been studied and planned. He cancels the climb once because he just isn’t feeling it, even though this means a six month wait to climb again. Probably saved his life.

Lastly, the on-the-edge-of-your-seat aspect of the movie. Jimmy Chin’s cinematography will take your breath away. That is literally, and it isn’t because of the beauty of Yosemite, a place I truly worship. Nope it’s because it’s all so ridiculously scary. The last 30 or so minutes of this film had me so tense I was nearly physically sick, but it was as brilliant as it was perfect.


There is also a little bit of science in the movie to try and work out how someone like Alex can actually do what he does. It is discovered in an MRI that Alex’s medulla oblongata is affected differently to most human beings. It takes a hell of a lot more for his to actually activate. The medulla oblongata helps regulate breathing, heart and blood vessel function, digestion, sneezing, and swallowing. This part of the brain is a center for respiration and circulation. If you are panicked, in your fight or flight mode, your medulla will go into high gear, gasping air through your system, pushing the blood to the extremities and readying the body for battle or a lot of running. Unlike my medulla during the entire movie, Alex’s barely registers. His would probably kick in if he actually fell or if someone shot him but generally, he’s as cool as a cucumber.

This is where his spiritual element comes into play, he is just so constantly zenlike and no doubt this allows him to be who he is.

Free Solo Alex Honnold image
Alex Honnold


FREE SOLO is a documentary masterpiece of one inspirational and lovable real life Spider-Man. I covered my eyes for most of the harrowing scenes. Alex Honnold lives on or over the edge and belongs among the greatest sporting and pioneering achievers in human history, up there with Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay with their Everest climb. Cannot recommend FREE SOLO enough!! Find the biggest screen you can to see it on.


Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.