Marc-André Leclerc climbs alone, far from the limelight. The free-spirited 23-year-old makes some of the boldest solo ascents in history. With no cameras and no margin for error, Leclerc’s approach is the essence of solo adventure.
Cast: Marc-Andre Leclerc, Brette Harrington, Peter Mortimer, Will Gadd, Alex Honnold, Michelle Kuipers, Reinhold Messner, Austin Siadak
Directors: Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen
In 2019, Free Solo, a documentary about free climber Alex Honnold, won the Best Documentary award at the Academy Awards. That film was renowned for its deep look at Honnold and why he would do climbs that most people would deem insane, unwarrantedly unsafe and beyond pushing the human spirit. The Alpinist looks to do the same exploring Marc-Andre Leclerc. To set up how boundary-pushing he is, The Alpinist begins with an interview of Honnold stating even he thinks what LeClerc is doing is insane — and if that’s not a seal of approval in the free climbing world, I don’t know what is.
Unlike Honnold, Marc-Andre Leclerc is an enigma. He’s talked about within the free climbing scene, but he doesn’t showboat. His most significant climbs he does by himself, and there’s no camera crew along the way to capture the moments. When we meet him in the film, he’s a young 23-year-old, free-spirited, yet with a profound understanding of his own emotions, body, and what makes him tick. He’s an explorer who seeks experiences that go beyond anything a theme park or movie theatre could provide. In one scene, he explains he’s the type of person to take five tabs of acid at a party and sit in a corner when his friends take one, just because he wants to see where that could take him.
From an outside point of view, it’s very easy to throw a lot of these free climbers in together and label them thrill-seekers. But the film does an excellent job of leaning on Alex Honnold as the most famous face in the sport and helping separate why he does what he does and why Leclerc does. While Honnold admittedly pushes himself from an aspect of the sport and seeks to keep his climbing records as long as he can, Leclerc simply wants to experience the climb. Both men seem to share the same absence of fear, which is medically explained in Free Solo and not explored in The Alpinist.
Speaking to his partner Brette Harrington, mother Michelle Kuipers and Marc-Andre Leclerc’s friends, you get an understanding of who this man is and what drives him forward in life. He’s kind, he’s relaxed, and at one point, he’s called a man out of his time. As the directors’ Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen point out in the film — rock climbing, especially free climbing, is cool now. There are stars with hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram making a living by being rock climbing content creators. Meanwhile, Leclerc owns no phone, no house and no car.