If you’ve ever looked at a sheer rock face, thousands of feet tall and thought “Yeah, I’d love to climb that” then you and I do not have that in common. But The Alpinist might be for you. I enjoy climbing, to be sure. But I see it more as an exercise activity, meant to be done with the safety of a belayer, preferably with a cold beer waiting for me at the end. Climb a sheer rock face thousands of feet in the air with no ropes? Thank you, but no.
That is not to say that I don’t understand and respect the sense of adventure and the risk sought by those who climb dangerous rock faces regularly. More power to you folks!
Yeah, So, The Alpinist … What Is That?
I was fortunate enough to recently experience the thrill of not only climbing, but free solo climbing in the Canadian Rockies and beyond, from the comfort of my own home office, as I watched the fantastic documentary The Alpinist from directors Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen. Among a handful of other climbers, the doc primarily focuses on one Marc-André Leclerc, a solo climber who scales dangerous rock faces, thousands of feet in the air, not in pursuit of fame or glory, but because that is simply where he belongs.
For several reasons, I’m simply going to say that you can Google Marc-André Leclerc to get any specific facts you may want to know before watching this doc. I’m just going to leave it at that.
What’s amazing about it is that, apart from some of the problems the film crew had tracking Marc-André down at times, when he would steal away to climb by himself or with friends, you get this incredibly intimate view of this man who climbs thousands of feet in the air without any ropes. Just him, a few pieces of equipment like shoes, gloves and climbing picks, and the rock face.
A Literal ‘Rock’ Star
While the film interviews other climbers, as I said, it’s really the story of Marc-André Leclerc.
When you say that someone is the “Michael Jordan” of something, you generally mean that they are the best of the best. Revolutionary even. Someone who has changed the game, so to speak, forever.
And while I would gladly apply that label to Marc-André Leclerc, there are some key differences between MJ and MAL. While Air Jordan was not only the best ever (fight me), he sought the spotlight. He didn’t just want to be the greatest, he wanted you and everyone else to know it. His opponents, his allies, and the whole world knows (or at least knew, I’m looking at you tweens) who Michael Jordan is.
Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum. Marc-André Leclerc is possibly the best solo free climber the planet has seen. Other accomplished and veteran solo alpine climbers are in awe of his abilities and accomplishments. Even if they are concerned that he may be pushing the envelope a little too far with regards to risk to life and limb.
But Leclerc didn’t push himself to be the best because of some sense of pride, or to be known the world over. In fact, he’d rather not be known. Which is why you probably have never heard of him, and why you need to watch this documentary. He barely pushed himself at all. He simply saw mountains and said, “I need to climb that.” Simply to satisfy that hunger inside of him. It was the pursuit of that hunger that made him the best.
Who Is This Movie For?
If your interests include Human Interest Stories and following real-life characters, this is a film for you. Marc-André Leclerc isn’t a rich and famous athlete who’s adventures take him to fancy social clubs clinking martinis. As I previously stated, fame and fortune aren’t his bag. In fact, they are so not his bag that he has spent a significant amount of his life practically homeless. Living on friends couches, or staying in hostels, and even living in a stairwell with his girlfriend, Brette Harrington, who is also a free solo climber.
What’s the Best Snack?
Seems appropriate to ask… what would you do for a Klondike Bar™?
What Should I Know Going In?
This doc is not for the faint of heart. I spent the majority of the time watching this film thinking “I am about to watch this man die.”
Most of the time you’re watching Marc-André hanging on to the sheer side of a rock face, hundreds, if not thousands of feet above the ground, only by the last half-inch of his chalky fingers. Or perhaps on the side of a frozen waterfall, hands firmly grasped around two climbing picks, legs dangling in the air. Then we cut to Marc-André in a sit-down interview talking about the high possibility that these ice walls could collapse for no other reason than that… they could… and he would fall to his death. The film takes a somber shift when Leclerc is in Patagonia about to scale, again, impossible climbs, and talking about how every time he has a meal before a climb, he makes sure it’s something he would like to have for his final meal on earth. Simply because, it could be.
For My Money
The above mentioned heavy subject matter (and some other that I won’t mention) aside, I loved watching this documentary. The cinematography is beautiful, the direction is smooth, and the storytelling is enchanting. The life of Marc-André Leclerc is fascinating and I found myself, despite the heart-stopping climbing shots, entranced by story of this nomadic, hippy climbing bro.
If you are a fan of documentaries and fascinating human beings, I would highly recommend The Alpinist as a strong addition to your watchlist. The one caveat I would acknowledge, without revealing too much, is that this film does deal, in a big way, with the dangers and potential consequences of free climbing.
The Alpinist premieres in theaters on September 10, 2021 with special early releases on September 7. Ticket information and more can be found at thealpinistfilm.com
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