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Andrew

Free Solo

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I rather liked Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi's Meru, from 2015, but I feel they've bettered themselves with their newest film.  Following climber Alex Honnold's effort to be the first to climb Yosemite's El Capitan alone and without ropes, it has the splendid photography and suspense of their first joint effort, but Free Solo adds deeper characterization and psychological insight.  I didn't want to publicly diagnose someone I've never met, so I didn't state this explicitly in my review, but I'm pretty sure Honnold is on the Asperger's spectrum, so the film is not only about his climb, but about his efforts at emotional intimacy with his girlfriend.  The two are very nicely melded, and one can't help but root for him on both counts.

This is my full review: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2018/11/free-solo-is-a-welcome-burst-of-humanistic-uplift/

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On 11/4/2018 at 1:29 PM, Andrew said:

 I didn't want to publicly diagnose someone I've never met, so I didn't state this explicitly in my review, but I'm pretty sure Honnold is on the Asperger's spectrum...

 

The film itself says this, though I get that if that isn't a professional saying it you may not want to add a professional diagnosis. 

I confess the film made me angry in places, though I am not sure if I was angry at Alex, the filmmakers, or both. I guess the filmmakers. What he is doing could be a compulsion, and I get the mother or girlfriend not being able or willing to take that away from him, but I felt watching it like I sometimes feel watching a gruesome injury in football (Alex Smith had his leg broken twice 33 years to the day after Joe Theismann)...I don't feel any urge to condemn someone else for watching, but I have a hard time justifying it to myself for myself.

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On 11/21/2018 at 10:45 AM, kenmorefield said:

The film itself says this, though I get that if that isn't a professional saying it you may not want to add a professional diagnosis. 

I really don't think so - his mom said she was pretty sure his dad was on the spectrum, but I don't recall any possible diagnoses for Alex himself being posited.

I can appreciate your negative feelings towards this film; that's pretty much how I feel about football, where one is basically watching the development of CTE in slow motion.

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My review. There are some jaw-dropping shots in the doc, but currently I'm one of two film critics on Rotten Tomatoes who gave this a "rotten" rating.

Quote

To be blunt, Alex comes off as robotic, aloof, and narcissistic. He appears as a privileged white male college dropout who has made his personal hobby into a personal money-making business which sustains his individual pursuits. Free Solo tries to depict Alex as an inspirational story, portraying his childhood as loveless or harsh, his rough background something he had to overcome–his mom says they called him “bozo” which would make anyone feel bad about themselves. But Alex was in the International Baccalaureate program at Mira Loma High School, one of the best public high schools in Northern California. He went to (and dropped out of) UC Berkeley. Even as his mom describes his dad as possibly having Asberger syndrome (though it’s not officially diagnosed), the film doesn’t suggest that Alex is on the autistic spectrum, despite some of his unemotional social behaviors. His dad financed and supported Alex’s climbing lessons and opportunities from a very early age; there is never a suggestion of abuse, poverty, or medical problems. In short, Alex’s is a riches-to-riches story; he overcame living in the suburbs so he could choose to live out of his van.

There is little in Alex and Sanni’s relationship which seems balanced or fair; we never see him celebrating her, thanking her, inquiring as to how she feels, or showing a bit of empathy or compassion for her feelings, especially about his mortality. In a scene where they buy a house together in Las Vegas, she is measuring various rooms and spaces for future purchases while Alex stands around. She points out, half-jokingly, that he never helps her out. The film supports this observation; Alex does not seem interested in human community, apart from what it can do to support him as an individual. In an interview Tommy Caldwell says he respects Sanni and Alex’s relationship, but while Sanni appears capable and caring, I found it difficult to discern what Alex brought to the relationship, apart from being a male companion. Nevertheless, Free Solo defends and lauds him. He might be a bit quirky, but he is essentially perfect, after all. Free Solo is, quite literally, The Alex Show. This is climbing film hagiography and Alex Honnhold is our saint.

 

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Yesterday FREE SOLO became the fourth documentary of the year to gross $10 million or more (joining RBG - THREE PERFECT STRANGERS - and WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR) making 2018 the first year to have 4 documentaries take in $10 million or more. The biggest surprise is that this was a year that saw both Michael Moore and Dinesh D’Souza release docs that ended up tanking with their respective audiences. 

https://variety.com/2018/film/news/free-solo-10-million-box-office-documentary-hot-streak-1203067397/

 

 

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Even more interesting, I think, is that on the two previous occasions that *three* documentaries grossed $10 million in one year, the three films consisted of (1) a political essay a la Moore/D'Souza, (2) a nature documentary and (3) a pop-star portrait -- but *none* of the four films that grossed $10 million this year fit those profiles.

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