This weekend, I had the privilege & opportunity to watch the much acclaimed sports drama film based on one of, if not the biggest Formula One rivalry, between celebrated drivers James Hunt & Niki Lauda .
My intimacy to Formula One is restricted to championing the talented Finnish driver – Kimi Raikkonen , fondly known as the Iceman. Much of Raikkonen’s best driving years came with McLaren Mercedes but he soon bowed out of the frame, 2 years after winning his only World Championship with Scuderia Ferrari in 2007 and thus ended my short-lived affair with Formula One, as the Iceman disappeared in NASCAR and World Rally’s obscurities.
Rush, therefore, was not so much of a sentimental choice for me as much as a curious one, fueled by the fabled rivalry between Hunt & Lauda, which almost cost the latter his life in a race day incident.
The movie is brilliantly crafted by Ron Howard’s crew and Peter Morgan’s screenplay. In spite of being a sports film, the creators have done well to ensure there’s not an overdose of elaborate driving scenes on the reel. The few that exist, are short and very creatively appealing. The plot instead, emphasizes on the volatile characters of James Hunt and Niki Lauda, played by Chris Hemsworth & Daniel Bruhl, both of whom, have done immense justice to their respective personas.
James Hunt, is a charismatic, enigmatic, brash young man – high on life and constantly seeking gratification for his high risk endeavours as a racer. Lauda on the other hand, is a focused, calculated precisionist. Born off effluent parents, Lauda falls out with his family in rebellion when they do not support him on his racing ambitions and never looks back.
Under the obvious plot of a sporting rivalry, lies a subtle under-current which is very interesting to study and observe as an everyday phenomenon in social & professional circles. I speak of the chasm created by the contrasting characters of Hunt & Lauda, which in my limited vocabulary, I shall describe as a fleeting struggle between ‘the extrovert playboy’ & ‘the introvert perfectionist’. If we’re to notice our own social circles, we will always find these characters much closer to us than we generally care to notice.
On one end of the spectrum, lies the ever boisterous playboy, who refuses to grow up, no matter how old he gets. Characterized by a never-ending ability to please & engage all around him, a witty sense of humor, often exceptional physical appeal (though this is not always a pre-requisite); the extrovert lives each day as his last. His motivators are usually a means to an end – the end is almost always validation of his peers.
James Hunt in Rush, is a complete specimen of this species. Drinks to his hearts appetite, sleeps with every woman that takes his fancy, spends every penny he earns before he can think about recovering it, and claims ‘driving’ to be his lone passion. And yet, the movie claims the guy to have relinquished his devotion and focus on driving after defeating Lauda to a World Championship, post which, driving takes a back-seat in his life, and is henceforth dominated by a vibrant social life, as he takes on the role of a popular public figure.
On the other end, lies the introvert perfectionist. Characterized by a penchant for precision, discipline and constant success, the introvert perfectionist is oblivious to his social stature. He tends to over-calculate and measure everything with reasoning. His dictionary has no place for ‘passion’ or causeless ‘emotion’. He remains intensely focused on the task at hand and has little care in the world for what people around him think of him and strictly refrains from socializing.
Lauda is all of these and more. The guy is renowned to have fine-tuned every car he’s raced and pushed them to their furthest technical performance boundaries. Lauda measures the value of risk in his racing in percentages, much to the exasperation of Hunt, who believes such earthly calculations defile & undermine the spirit or passion of the sport that they all love. Lauda’s grit & determination towards remaining on top, is determined by the incident at Nürburgring. After a futile attempt at urging fellow drivers to call the race off due to extremely dangerous driving conditions, Lauda begins the race in a fury after being taunted for being ‘scared & manipulative’ by rival Hunt. Lauda never finishes the race after he meets with a near-fatal accident that leaves him stuck in a flaming car. 6 weeks of mind-numbing pain follow, as Lauda undergoes treatment for his life-threatening conditions while at the same time watching Hunt win race after race, closing in on his Championship title. A determined Lauda returns to the circuit with 2 races to go, and almost pips Hunt to the title again, before retiring in the last race of the season due to similarly threatening conditions at the Japanese Grand Prix. A detailed narrative of this chain of events is necessary to understand how much this rivalry and the desire to succeed and remain on top, mattered to Niki Lauda, who for me is the perfect champion of the ‘introvert perfectionist’.
Rush, is as much about an intense rivalry between two exceptionally talented drivers as it is about the struggle between two ways of life and is very clearly portrayed in the dying embers of the movie which shows a chance encounter between the two protagonists after the 1976 championship.
Lauda confesses how Hunt was far more responsible for getting him out of his hospital room and onto the racing circuit again than he was for getting him into that state in the first place. He further urges Hunt to not let this success get to his head and focus, because it is his competitive presence that brings out the best in Lauda himself. Hunt goes on to counter (it seems he’s sad when he says this), explaining that life is much more than all the precision, intensity and calculations that Lauda’s constantly obsessed with. Hunt indirectly claims, that while driving means so much to him, he would probably be unhappy if he couldn’t live his life with joy and it’s inevitable finality, after stepping off the race track. Hunt parts with a word of advice, asking Lauda to ‘go out there and live’ and it seems like Lauda finally gets the message, but continues to stick by his own standards, leaving the enchanted audience to wonder if either was the objectively ‘correct’ approach to success/life, or if it was an open-ended question, to be addressed by each for his own 🙂
Overall rating: 3.5/5