“Everyone is driven by something.”
That’s the tag for Ron Howard’s Rush, the biopic about Formula One racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and their pursuit of the championship in 1976. While there are certainly other actors and actresses (Olivia Wilde, of note), the camera remains almost solely focused on these two men, in an unflinching look at the way that greatness is pursued and the cost of glory.
To be fair, I’m no race car fan. I wouldn’t know a head gasket from a [fill in the blank], and the racing was solely a filler between the bits of witty exchange between Hunt and Lauda. In fact, the action and dialogue seemed to suffer whenever they weren’t onscreen together, reminding us of Mr. Glass’ statement in Unbreakable, that every hero needs a villain. But neither of these men are truly pure hero figures, and neither is a complete villain. Instead, they are two, broken individuals who pursue the points championship, risking their lives, their relationships, and their happiness in that pursuit.
We see the majority of the film in a flashback, and Howard uses a faux archival look, mixed with the usual sports shots and interpersonal scenes. At the end of the film, there’s actual footage mixed in with the closing scenes, and we almost can’t tell exactly what is what. That’s the beauty of this story, that paints Hunt as a womanizer with an alcohol problems, and Lauda as a cerebral, but socially inept foil. One is the life of the party but visibly flawed; the other is hermit-like and later, physically flawed.
Still, the two of them are nearly the same. They’re so self-involved in their pursuit of the championship that they lose sight of what it means to be half of a marriage, to build friendships rather than user-focused relationships, to acknowledge that their could be more to life than racing. But that’s why the crowds followed them in 1976 and why there’s a movie about them now.
I wavered on whether to include a spoiler here or not (I’ve chosen not to). What’s gripping, ultimately, is that both of them are faced with the same choice, to put life and future on the line for a championship, or not. These men don’t see that there’s anything more to life, and sadly, “the job” is what many Americans see as “all there is.” There is much more to life, in relationships, in community, in faith. But so many people don’t get it.
We’ve become a nation focused on “the win,” and if we can’t get it at “the job,” we try to do it on softball fields where we play, or on soccer fields where our kids play, or in church, or PTA, or with our friends. We’ve lost sight of (sorry for the cliche) the journey, and only found the destination to be valuable. [Again, that’s the same problem I have with so many versions of “Christianity” where conversion, not relationship, is key.] It’s something that costs Hunt and Lauda, and hopefully, won’t cost you if you can learn from them.