By Dom Cioffi
As a lifelong sportsman, I’ve always had the opinion that, given enough time and effort, I could probably become adept at most any activity. I’m not saying that I’m a gifted athlete, but rather, I’m coordinated enough to be able to transfer those abilities to a myriad of disciplines.
For example, I’ve never competed as a diver, but as a youngster I was mildly fearless and had enough spatial awareness to pull off a front one and a half from the tower at our local pool. No one taught me, I just figured it out by watching others.
And while that may be impressive for a 13-year-old from a small town in Vermont, it doesn’t amount to much in the real world of diving. Now, had someone gotten ahold of me at that stage and put me into a serious training program, I likely could have progressed to a respectable level – maybe.
I’ve picked a few sports to focus on in my lifetime, with basketball and golf topping the list. I reached solid amateur status in both and gained enough confidence in the process to assume that, had I directed that energy into another sport, I likely could have found the same success there.
That is, until I started to understand rock climbing.
Rock climbing, to me, is in a league of its own. Not only does it require immense physicality, but it also demands a profound control of your mental facilities. Few sports flirt with death quite like rock climbing, which makes it wildly interesting and intensely unnerving.
I’ve never been rock climbing nor have I ever wanted to. I’ve been inside a rock-climbing gym once when I picked up my son at a birthday party. While there, I definitely marveled at the athletes who were at work.
But as much as I was impressed with their abilities, none of it left me inspired enough to want to try it. But a couple years ago, I watched the documentary “Free Solo” starring Alex Honnold, who is arguably one of the greatest, if not the greatest climber in history. The film chronicled Honnold’s attempt to free solo up the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. After watching that movie, rock climbing took on a different appreciation in my mind.
If you’re not familiar with Honnold’s feat, you need to watch this film. It’s one of those documentaries that will dramatically change your view on a particular subject, whether you’re interested in it or not. This young man is literally wired differently in his brain (which they cover in the film). And thankfully so, since he climbs near-vertical rock faces WITHOUT ANY ROPES!
I’ve rarely had a film give me anxiety, but “Free Solo” did that in droves. My idea of what constituted an athlete changed when I witnessed Honnald’s fearlessness and athleticism.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get more amazing, along comes another kid named Marc-Andre Leclerc, who was the featured climber in a recent documentary called, “The Alpinist.”
“The Alpinist” as a film was equally compelling, as was its central character. To see what this young man did by himself on some of the most dramatic mountainsides in the world is nothing less than astonishing. I don’t want to sound grandiose, but I honestly have never seen anything more harrowingly beautiful than what these two young men (and likely few others) have done.
There’s simply no way I could physically or mentally handle what these extreme free solo rock climbers do. Yeah, maybe after some intense training I could pull off a mid-level climb on a semi-steep slope with loads of rope and lots of obvious footholds. But if anyone thinks I’m climbing up anything higher than 30 feet without serious protection, they’re crazy.
So, I will offer up a big “Nope. No way. Never going to happen for me.” I’m an athlete and I’m confident but what free solo rock climbers do is otherworldly.
And speaking of otherworldly, this week’s feature, “Nope” offers its own harrowing glimpse at something frighteningly beautiful and equally deadly.
Written, directed, and produced by Jordan Peele, “Nope” follows the saga of a brother and sister who inherit their father’s horse ranch after his untimely death. The business is in financial trouble, so they are forced to sell horses to an accompanying ranch, where dubious activities are at play. I have to give Peele credit. He is coming up with the most creative and interesting plot lines in recent memory. M. Night Shyamalan was the wonderkid of this genre, but Peele has definitely taken the reins.
If you love tasty sci-fi stories that keep you thinking and guessing, definitely give this film a try.
An ethereal “B+” for “Nope,” now playing in theaters.
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.