The Human Condition: Our Review of ‘The Dawn Wall’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - February 07, 2019
The Human Condition: Our Review of ‘The Dawn Wall’

It’s the eternal question…why do attempt what we’re told is impossible?

The Dawn Wall is a fantastic glimpse into the human spirit and the need that drives us to conquer that which is unconquerable and complete the impossible even when every logical instinct in our body tells us that we shouldn’t.

In January, 2015, American rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson captivated the world with their effort to climb The Dawn Wall, a seemingly impossible 3,000 foot rock face in Yosemite National Park, California. The pair lived on the sheer vertical cliff for weeks, igniting a frenzy of global media attention. But for Tommy Caldwell, The Dawn Wall was much more than just a climb… It was the culmination of a lifetime defined by overcoming obstacles. At the age of 22, the climbing prodigy was taken hostage by rebels in Kyrgyzstan. Shortly after, he lost his index finger in an accident, but resolved to come back stronger. When his marriage fell apart, he escaped the pain by fixating on the extraordinary goal of free climbing The Dawn Wall. Blurring the line between dedication and obsession, Caldwell and his partner Jorgeson spend six years meticulously plotting and practicing their route. On the final attempt, with the world watching, Caldwell is faced with a moment of truth. Should he abandon his partner to fulfill his ultimate dream, or risk his own success for the sake of their friendship?

The Dawn Wall is the encapsulation of the human obsession as directors Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer dive into the psyche of those who have the need to not let themselves be defined by what people say they can or cannot do.

Both Lowell and Mortimer are veterans of the climbing game so they know how to have respect and appreciate the scale of the climb that the films two subjects are trying to accomplish.  There’s a genuine epic sense of scope as these subjects try to do in the impossible but in a surprise they get into the warts and all nature of the obsession that these men have.  This film is so much more than your standard sports documentary; it’s actually a psychological deep dive into what drives someone like a Tommy Caldwell (who you’d have also seen in the recent Free Solo) to be a climber.

The film goes deep into Caldwell’s life, examining both the tragedy and the triumph in his life that all culminates to this and why he needed to this and the amount of mind numbing work that went into plotting out this climb.  Caldwell’s back story is more than a little amazing and he makes for one hell of a subject and when you combine him and his dynamic with Jorgeson you get drawn into an existence of two men whose life simply can’t go on, unless they get the hell off that mountain.

Ultimately, The Dawn Wall is a magnificent testament to the endurance of the human spirit in the face of all obstacles, even when it makes a lot more sense to quit and simply go and do something else.  This is a film about not knowing how to quit, and it’s a beautiful thing.

  • Release Date: 2/8/2019
This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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