Mountain climbing is a dangerous sport, but one that even the meekest human can understand the draw. Marc-André Leclerc once said, “One of the coolest feelings a human can experience is to feel so small in a world that’s so big.” For some of us, all we need is to view the world from a skyscraper window and we’re good. Others will travel with groups and climb to the tops of mountains just to say that they did. And then there are those know as alpinists who frequently climb alone and without many silly tools like ropes and safety equipment.
Leclerc is one of those latter folks who has climbed the tallest, steepest, seemingly impossible mountains with what seems like very little effort. You may not have ever heard of this guy because he has received very little press. His accomplishments are great but he’s not into this sport to brag or become famous. He does it simply because he feels compelled to.
Peter Mortimer set out to make a documentary about Leclerc and yet, much of The Alpinist is about Mortimer trying to keep up with the 23-year-old. Leclerc is camera shy and doesn’t like to talk much. He doesn’t mind the fact that Mortimer is making a movie about his life, but at the same time, isn’t too impressed either. This makes the young man even more fascinating.
With interviews with various mountain climbers and close personal friends and family, The Alpinist explains how Marc-André was different from other kids from a very early age. There is no mention of his father in the documentary or if there was it was only brief and I missed it. He has no siblings and for many years it was just him and his mother. He said that first grade was a horrible experience for him as he just couldn’t sit still or focus. Home movies show how this genuinely sunny personality must of have been a handful. He spent most of his younger years being homeschooled. He loved to read and one book about mountains kept his attention from an early age. There was no way to hold him back.
For the most part, this documentary is beautifully shot with some amazing views filmed all around the world. However, Leclerc didn’t like camera crews following him as it would take away his solo experience. Sometimes he would agree to go again only after completing a climb by himself first. Sometimes he would just disappear with no way for the filmmakers to get a hold of him. He once had a cell phone but broke it or lost it and thought it was a sign that he wasn’t meant to own one. So, another portion of this film is filled with Mortimer explaining how he went about trying to find Leclerc so that he could finish the film.
Leclerc appears to be a happy person. He is smiling in every shot that he’s in. At one point, a photography asks him to hold a serious pose and he can’t do it. He mentions how he is very close to his mother, but there are no shots of the two of them together. He also has a sometimes girlfriend who he clearly loves, but apparently not enough to make a commitment to her. In fact, Leclerc seems to have a hard time making any commitments of any kind. He doesn’t seem to work or at least not steadily. He likes people but prefers to be alone. He knows that what he does is dangerous but doesn’t seem to grasp the fact this his solo adventures just might be a selfish act.
While the people interviewed for this documentary have the most respect or are at least are in awe of Leclerc, some question his methods. However, as an outside observer, I found Leclerc, while very likeable, to be a frustrating person. From a very early age he was allowed to live his dreams and that is what he’s been doing his whole life. Rules apparently don’t apply to him. Working for a living is no fun, so he doesn’t earn a paycheck. At least, not like the rest of us do. I’m not saying the people should give up their dreams, but at times this documentary seems to praise this man for living the life he wants and not doing anything that he doesn’t want. He doesn’t come across as a jerk or even spoiled. But I do believe that he is selfish.
Thought fascinating at first, The Alpinist does tend to drag on. There are some moments that are thrilling, but they pass by too quickly. The 90-minute long film feels at least 15 minutes too long. But this is a film that will make you think and that’s what the best art does, doesn’t it?
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.