Rated -R. Running time: 2 hour 3 min.
Our Advisories (1-10): Violence 2; Language 5; Sex-Nudity 6.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Happy are those who find wisdom,
and those who get understanding,
for her income is better than silver,
and her revenue better than gold.
Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind,and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
I am by no means a racing fan, especially of the sport back in the 1970s, and yet I found Ron Howard’s real story based film fascinating. Not only is it well made—the short shots, often with a hand-held or helmet-anchored camera, perfect for the topic of racing—but it turns out to be a character study of two very different men, both dedicated to the glamorous but dangerous sport of racing. Because they are so different in temperament, they approach both life and racing from opposite poles.
When Englishman James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) first compete against each other, Hunt wins by a dangerous maneuver that could have resulted in their serious injury or even death, so the Austrian develops a deep dislike for his competitor—not just for winning, but for his heedless recklessness. This comes to a head at a race in Germany where the rain is falling so hard that the cautious Lauda calls a meeting of the drivers and asks that the race be canceled or postponed. Hunt’s is the leading voice to advocate continuing, which carries most of the other drivers with him. Out on the track Lauda’s concern proves valid when his car spins out of control on the slippery surface and he crashes. His serious burns and messed up lungs sideline him for months during the crucial time when the victorious Hunt is racking up points on the track in his quest to overtake Lauda and win the world driving championship for 1976.
The film’s graphic portrayal of the champion’s burns and ordeal at having to have a tube inserted to vacuum out his clogged lungs (requiring him to stay awake for the ordeal) will freak out some viewers, but his ordeal turns the once arrogant Lauda into the underdog. Against everyone’s advice he decides to return and defend his championship, and so we arrive at the Big Race. It is one that keeps us in suspense (especially us non-race fans ignorant of the results), and its outcome, following a crucial decision by Lauda, might make you wonder—who has made the right decisions in the film?
Interspersed between exciting racing sequences are the various women in the lives of the two men, with Hunt impetuously marrying model Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), a marriage both soon realize is a mistake—so Suzy runs off with another man, one of the few in those days more glamorous than Hunt—actor Richard Burton. Lauda marries the sharp-tongued Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), warning her that he will forget her birthday and such.
It is clear that Lauda’s hatred of his rival has changed by the time of the last race—if not into friendship, then at least into a grudging respect, even admiration. From what I have read their screen rivalry is greatly exaggerated in the film, the two racers once having roomed together and remained friends despite their competing against each other. I suppose we can grant the filmmakers some historical license for the sake of showing the results of their contrasting characters and life styles. The cautious and rational Lauda admits to envying his impetuous rival, regarding him as living “the full life” on and off the track. Many of the audience will feel this way too, regardless of the fact that Hunt’s wild style of living—drinking, drug use, and promiscuous sex (the on-line bios claim that he bedded 5000 women!)—eventually lead to his death by heart attack at the age of 45. Some “full life”!
Rush, regardless of its accurateness, is an engrossing film that feeds our desire for action on the track as well as showing us the human beings driving the cars. I suspect that the wise man who wrote Ecclesiastes would not hold to the admiration that Niki Lauda (and apparently Ron Howard) has for John Hunt, but would see all too clearly the shallowness of the man who says, “The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel. It’s a wonderful way to live. It’s the only way to drive.” And he might approve of Lauda’s statement, “A wise man can learn more from his enemies than a fool from his friends.” Indeed, doesn’t that sound like it could have been taken from the Book of Proverbs?
The full review with a set of 7 questions for reflection or discussion will appear in the November issue of Visual Parables, which will be available toward the end of October. If you are a subscriber and plan to discuss this film with a group, contact the editor, and he can send you the full review.