This is an unforgettable documentary about a free-spirited nonconformist who lived his life to its fullest while engaged in the extreme dangers of free solo mountain climbing. The Alpinist may have been intended to be a documentary on the search and profile of Marc-André Leclerc, an enigmatic climber who was taking on and conquering incredible climbs while, unlike so many in extreme sports and life in general, not turning these climbs into an exercise in branding or a springboard to celebrity. While it's certainly that, with plenty of the expected eye candy of the views from the top of rarely, if ever, scaled mountains, what ultimately emerges is a fundamental and existential exploration of what it means to be alive, and the benefits and problems that come with living life on your own terms, especially when that life is constantly at risk in the name of pursuing one's bliss.
In a society of self-promoters and celebrity seekers in all fields, it's refreshing to see someone like Leclerc pursue his sport for reasons rooted more in the spiritual rather than scaling this or that mountain face in order to "expand the brand." There is, however, a tragedy in this story of obsessive pursuit at the expense of everything and everyone else, and it's a tragedy that isn't fully explored in this documentary. There's a kind of romanticism of the way in which Leclerc chose to live his life, and, by extension, the traditionally renegade lifestyles of those who free solo mountain climb, but the ending comes across as something that the filmmakers were unable to confront at the time due to being too close to the subject of their documentary, or hadn't had the time to fully process everything that happened. It's perfectly understandable, and there are obviously no easy answers, and it's precisely these questions of life and death and finding true happiness in life while constantly facing death that are just as likely to linger as the visual images of Leclerc scaling icy-snowy-rocky cliff walls.