I just finished “The Alpinist” on Netflix. The movie follows Marc-André Leclerc, a Canadian rock climber and alpinist. The movie chronicles two years of his climbing. I am not a climber, but I have always had a deep love for the wilderness, the mountains, and the unexplainable feeling of summiting a peak. I am in awe of climbers.
Some climbing documentaries are exciting. They depict feats that hold me on the edge of my seat. “Free Solo” is such a movie. Others combine beautiful scenery with a rhythmic tension. “Touching the Void” comes to mind. “The Alpinist” is something different. It flirts with the typical tropes that are prevalent in climbing documentaries without becoming cliché. Questions of risk are asked but the filmaker seems happy to grant agency to Marc-André and other climbers. They are content to accept that certain people have developed different understandings of acceptable risk through training and experience, not because they are somehow crazy. The cinematography is gorgeous. Marc-André is genuinely lovable and extremely talented. It is a joy to watch him work a crack and watching him ice-climb is spellbinding.
Spoilers Ahead: read later if you are not familiar with Marc-André’s climbing and would like to see the movie first.
The director positions Marc-André’s summit of Torre Egger in Patagonia as the climatic climb of the movie but for me his first solo ascent on Mt. Robson’s Emperor Face is the highlight. The joy on Marc-André’s face when he states that “it was a very good day” perfectly captured the indescribable feeling of accomplishing something that you weren’t sure was possible. Marc-André’s life was cut tragically short. The filmmaker doesn’t shy away from his untimely death. The grief of his mother and girlfriend are heart-wrenching. There is no beautiful lesson to be learned in death. He lived a beautiful life. He was inspiring. He was loved. He died. Life goes on and it hurts like hell.
I appreciate that the film doesn’t strive for some higher meaning. In being true to the intensity of life that Marc-André lived and the intense emotions experienced by his friends and family when he died, the movie inspires emotion. I sat on the edge of my seat. I caught myself holding my breath with fear. I cried uncontrollably. I felt the pull of my backpack and the wilderness. “The Alpinist” is a great climbing documentary.