I Gonzo on the Paradox of Popularity and is Fun Just for Losers? A review of the film Gripped: Climbing the Killer Pillar.
Choose life. Choose to quit your job. Choose a panting romance at 1200 feet, choose expressive homogeneity, choose Extreme, choose a Patagonia puffer, choose putting on make up in your tent in the morning, choose a fetishised water-bottle, some scroggin and tattoos.
Remember that time you told your mate that this crag was secret? Yeah man, screw the public, climbing is for climbers that much I maintain is self-evident. Now, what the film Gripped: Climbing the Killer Pillar presupposes is, maybe it isn’t?
Choose climbing gyms, choose selfies, choose interminably speed climbing the same route to win Gold, but make sure to choose a bandana to emphasise your surfer hair draped on your overmuscled leathery chest. Choose to say things like ‘more real than real’, choose to mean it.
Yes; that last bit is actual dialogue in the film and there’s more where that came from. Rose (our archetypical non-climber/climber) meets random Bret who asks her to close her eyes in his trailer before going in for a kiss , but it’s cool because he’s buffed out of his peanut mind and has a Zen calmness which leads a girl to quiet confidence. Next thing you know Bret is sealing the deal on his preferred leg-spreading route with a floundering newbie who’d never led let alone climbed outdoors. And so, a love story blossoms like an engorged Ladyslipper orchid, all the while Bret reiterates in exquisite detail his Zen superiority. Then with just one trad route under their collective belt, they stare up at the starry night sky and ponder what great and potentially film-worthy route to climb the next day, before setting off to climb the poignantly named Killer Pillar. Cut to macho Bret all but carrying poor wilting Rose many pitches up into the vast expanse of California’s Bishop granite in don’t-fuck-up-because-we’ll-die-landia. Just wait and see what happens next! Besides, that thing he said about reality is pretty deep man, since reality is a construct, so like, the more constructed the better right? Nice one Bret.
Choose epic, be mindful and choose The Now, nowful. Choose whether you should be an insufferable ape-man who talks down to women who will defeat you in an inevitable moment of devolved weakness.
The voice of Renton from Trainspotting entered my head (hard to get a word-in in here) because a viewer is presented with a lot of pseudo-choices when climbing enters a commodified mainstream. A non-climber audience watching the vertiginous action is likely to have quickened pulse in their sweaty mitts, which is cool. And it’s damn close to real climbing crossing all the way over into a feature film – which at least historically has proven difficult. So that much is worth celebrating. (The acting? Maybe they’re only pretending to act.) This film is as much for climbers as it is for those who are possessed by the conviction that Alex Honnold discovered Yosemite just before doing its first ascent all on his lonesome. Some of us are going to wince or chortle and others are going to furiously shut the laptop, wedge it in the closest crack on a sling then check if it’s load bearing. Many have gnashed their teeth over ridiculous climbing in past films like Cliffhanger or Mission Impossible and we’ve probably thought there is room for a pure climbing thriller after seeing Free Solo. This one comes with some real creds with a legit view of what climbing is like, the first woman to solo the nose Jackie Florine makes an appearance and thankfully it has some real climbing on some proud multi-pitch lines (even if done by the stunt doubles). Sierra Nevada at altitude is beautiful and the rock looks worthy of an adventure film even if the intensity factor is turned a few notches down on the potential-ometer. Is this the film you’ve been looking for? If you’ve read this far, I’m going to volunteer your answer as a yes. Sure I sneered, but I also took some deep unencumbered breaths, which felt like stretching sclerotic lungs for the first time in months of lockdown-vacant-desperation. I assure you that if they made a sequel, I would go and see it in the cinema if they ever let me in.
Choose fun or choose a cool way of ridiculing this film, choose to laugh either way, and then choose whether you want climbing to be open to the public.
Probably the best 2/5 I’ve ever seen.