Rush – Thrilling and Tragic

by Yo Snyder

Rush is a tragic
film. Not in the way one might expect, in fact, the great tragedy of this film
is that the film itself really misses its own point. Rush is about life, about what it means to really “live life to the
full”, but in the end, it picks the wrong definition of what it means to “live
life to the full”, and so misses the profound point to be learned from these
events, and that is a true tragedy. I’ll explain that more in a bit, but
setting aside that particular tragic element for just a moment, Rush is also one of the best, most
riveting and exciting sports films I’ve seen in years. If you’ve ever wanted to
know what it would be like to sit in the seat of a formula one racing car (and
let’s be honest, who hasn’t?) this movie will get you as close as possible
aside from actually sitting in the driver’s seat for yourself. It’s a thrilling
ride and fascinating look at two lives which, tragically, really miss the point
of all they experience.

In 1976, one of the great rivalries of the sports world
didn’t happen on the pitch, or on a field, or on any sort of court, it was on
the asphalt and tarmac of the Formula One racing circuit. Naturally talented
James Hunt, British bad boy and playboy, was locked in a fierce competition
with Nicki Lauda, and Austrian perfectionist with a prickly demeanor that no
one much liked. Their animosity and enmity both on and off the track captured
the attention of the world that year as they vied to be the world champion of
Formula One. Lauda captured that title the year before, and Hunt was
determined, perhaps even obsessed to keep him from doing it again.

Rush is at its
most riveting and breathtaking when is shows their fierce competition on the
track. Ron Howard deftly brings the audience into the world of Formula One and
really gives a sense of why it’s so thrilling and so frightening. The racing
scenes are amazing; heart-stopping and thrilling and among some of the best car
scenes in any movie I’ve seen, exceeding many of the standard chase scenes that
try so hard to capture the excitement that Howard evokes so easily in this
film. At my screening, people were literally sitting on the edge of their seats
whenever the action was happening on the track.

The movie derails just a bit when heads off the track and
into the personal lives of these two men. We don’t learn much about what makes
them do what they do. There’s at least some insight into the character of Lauda,
but Hunt is never really developed beyond his devil-may-care, playboy
archetype, which is a shame because there are hints here and there that that
there may be more beneath the surface, that perhaps he isn’t quite as happy as
we’re lead to believe. This is where the true tragedy of the film unfolds.

In the end, Lauda tells us that Hunt was perhaps the only
man he ever truly envied; and that’s a tragedy. At a key moment in his life,
Lauda makes an important choice, and here at the end of the film it’s implied
that it was the wrong one. Hunt lived for himself. He lived life to the
“fullest”, or so the film would suggest. Lauda choose a “safer” way to live
life, and it’s suggested that perhaps he chose wrong. Quite frankly, I was
upset at this implication and felt it was rather tragic that Lauda, who I would
say truly made the right choice for what it means to “live” life, was left
envying a man who for all intents and appearance perhaps lived more “fully”,
but in truth missed out on what that really means. As I said, there are hints
and suggestions that Hunt’s life really isn’t all that wonderful, that in fact
he’s not “living to the full”, but really living in fear; fear of death. The
excesses to which he goes and the very lethal nature of his chosen career all
point to a man who wants to avoid death and feel alive as possible, as much as
possible in whatever way he can, but ultimately, he doesn’t ever find what he’s
looking for.

It’s interesting, this concept of “living life to the full”.
So often it’s connected with hedonistic, self-centered pleasure; do whatever
makes you feel good and do as much of that as you can. But is that really what
it means? I find it fascinating that one of the statements Jesus made was, “I
have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) I
would think that people would at least be a little curious about that. After
all, it’s what so many are looking for and fail to find. It’s what Hunt was
looking for, but tragically, failed to find. It’s what Lauda was looking for,
and for all intents and purposes, came closer to finding, but he couldn’t see
it that way, which was quite tragic. People want to “live life to the full” but
tragically end up more often than not living an empty one. And yet Jesus said
he came to bring us the very thing we crave, if only we are willing to broaden,
or perhaps let go, of what our definition of “living life to the full” really
means. Jesus suggested that it was something more than pleasing and living for
ourselves, something much greater and longer lasting that. However, if you
really want to find out what it is, you’re going to have to turn to him to find

I also want to note that this film goes to some explicit
lengths to establish the, no pun intended, racy life of James Hunt. There is
sex, and there is nudity. However, it’s not as salacious as I was expecting.
Now, I’m not saying that makes it okay in any way. In fact, I believe there are
ways to establish such a character trait without showing quite so much.
However, Rush takes a more straight
forward approach and just shows us what Hunts off-track lifestyle is like.
Again, there are hints that it’s not all that he wants it to be, but the way
it’s presented to the audience and even the way Lauda sees it, it seems
glamorous and “living life to the full”. All that to say, discretion is
strongly advised due to this element in what otherwise a really great film.

When a movie is based on a true story, I consider it
successful when it makes me want to go and learn about the actual story. Rush is that kind of movie. I’ve never
much thought about Formula One racing, but this movie made me want to learn
more about this era of the sport, and about these two men in particular. This
is a film that can help one uninitiated in something like Formula One to
appreciate its beauty and perhaps even some of its appeal. As one character
states, men love women, but men love cars even more. An odd statement perhaps,
but one that some can at least identify with a bit, or if you’re a guy like me
who is infatuated with cars, it’s one
that will resonate with you. However, Rush
is also a difficult movie to watch. The life of James Hunt is graphically
tragic in its excesses. The dangers of Formula One are also graphically
portrayed at time, as is the graphic nature of obsession and hate. For all its
beauty, and Rush is a beautifully
filmed move, there’s also a taint of ugliness. And nothing, perhaps, is quite
as ugly as the film’s final, tragic statement of what it really means to live
to the full. The men of this story, and the film itself, really don’t know what
that means.

Score: 6 of 7 – Rush is rated R, and for good reason.
Not just for the sex and nudity, but also for the language and some pretty
graphic injuries that take place. However, it’s all handled in a very mature,
grown-up manner. This is a movie for grown-ups, plain and simple. That doesn’t
make some of the content in it any more agreeable, but it’s one of the few
films I’ve seen that doesn’t handle that material in the typically childish
manner that is more common in rated R films.