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The Alpinist follows the life and pursuits of Canadian solo mountain climber Marc-André Leclerc. As you watch him scale thousands of feet of rock, ice, snow, and even seemingly air itself, fear quickly turns into amazement. His audacious joy for both his craft and his life makes this documentary one of the most enthralling stories of 2021 to go right under everyone’s radar.
Internationally recognized solo mountain climbers Alex Honnold, whose film Free Solo won an Oscar in 2019. Reinhold Messner (known for making the first solo ascent of Mount Everest) and Barry Blanchard also reflect on Leclerc’s life. It was directed and executive produced by Peter Mortimer, the man behind The Dawn Wall.
To put it simply, the cinematic telling of Marc-André Leclerc’s real-life story will galvanize your spirit. It’s not a question. You may never climb a 2000-foot rock face–with no rope–ever in your life. You might not ever even see one in real time. But Leclerc’s desire to push beyond the mental and physical boundaries of fear is absolutely applicable to all noble pursuits. In fact, one could say that the ethos of Leclerc’s life has nothing at all to do with mountain climbing in a broad sense. It is, as is said in the film by others, almost spiritual in essence: do what you love, however you can, whenever you can, at whatever the cost you feel at peace with. And it is quite sobering to the soul to see someone live by that coda so completely in our day and age.
You may think I’m over-exaggerating because, hey, most sports documentaries are inspiring by nature. But I really want to hammer home the fact that The Alpinist had me–literally, not figuratively–questioning my whole life story. The film itself ends by asking: if all the risks, limitations, and fears were overcome, what would you do with your life? What would you do? After watching The Alpinist, the answer very clearly felt like if Marc-André Leclerc did that, then what are we all waiting for? This isn’t to say throw caution to the wind but–without spoiling the end for viewers–some stories are inspiring just by virtue of how authentically in the moment they were lived.
The juxtaposition between the grandiose scale of the mountains and Marc-André Leclerc’s humble (practically bashful) persona is what sustains the film’s power. The one exacerbates the other to tremendously philosophical effect. As Leclerc himself describes it in the film, feeling so, so small in the immensity of the world is powerful, and the filmmakers play on that fact quite scrupulously. The breathtaking wide shots of the mountains–everywhere from Canada to Argentina to Alaska–are only eclipsed by this 26-year-old kid’s profound belief that they held adventure instead of fear.
In other words, the two-fold beauty and terror of climbing the dangerous terrain (i.e. life itself) isn’t so daunting in the face of true human spirit. May we all take heart in that understanding.
Joie de vivre never looked so effortless as it does in The Alpinist. While the spectacular cinematography wows the senses, the beautiful character portrait at its core of an eccentric, backwoods mountain climber stirs the humanity in us all. Marc-André Leclerc will go down as a man truly outside his own time, with zero intention or desire of doing so.
If you’re going to check out The Alpinist, try your best to watch as and with others who can suspend their sense of disbelief. Watch it as though you have no fear of heights or no care in the world about what others think, difficult though it may be. The full impact of the film’s message is better felt that way because, most essentially, it applies to things well beyond just mountain climbing.
Internationally recognized solo mountain climbers reflect on Marc-André Leclerc and the mountaineering sport, including Reinhold Messner (known for making the first solo ascent of Mount Everest), Barry Blanchard, and Alex Honnold (known as the first person to free solo El Capitan). If you’re familiar with these variety of documentaries, you’ll probably recognize Honnold, whose film Free Solo won an Oscar in 2019.