No Guts; No Glory. No Pain; No Gain. A Movie About Swimming Sensation, Diana Nyad
We always love a good movie, especially those which are aspirational. Pair that with a real-life person who’s in our age group and the film Nyad certainly ticks the boxes. (Here’s a link to the trailer on YouTube, if you aren’t familiar with it.)
It’s a well-orchestrated, brilliantly scripted film that shows how the combination of sports prowess, emotional, mental and physical determination, plus exceptional teamwork made an historic sporting event succeed. This is an exciting film sure to appeal to people of all age groups. But especially for us seniors who still have dreams we’re chasing!
That’s one way to describe and define the character Diana Nyad, as played with unmatchable ferocity by Annette Bening in the new Netflix film Nyad.
If any of you reading this are in or around your 60s and feeling shunted to the sidelines by the progressive failures of your own body and the quiet condescension of the younger generation, this is a movie for you. Bening’s Nyad moves through the world certain of her place in it. This is a woman, let us remind ourselves, who in her early 60s successfully swam the 111 miles in nearly 53 hours from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida.
If At First You Don’t Succeed…Try, Try, Again
Stung by ultra toxic box jellyfish and lacerated by man o’ war, threatened by sharks and subjected to a violent storm at sea and unpredictable ocean currents, Nyad presses on, conceding nothing. Persisting again and again when failure to achieve her goal threatens to dampen her dream of being the first person to swim the distance. After a failed effort in her youth, she decided to try again in her sixties.
At times while watching the movie, we began to believe we were witnessing our own litmus test of what’s inspirational versus what’s delusional. No one comes out of retirement—Nyad’s swimming career was over when she was 30—to do this. It’s wild.
The important thing about this picture is the way the moviemakers have captured the relentless, exhausting challenge facing Nyad. There are no prettified seascapes—you can almost feel the gravitational pull of the water as Nyad keeps pushing on, by day and by night, lifting her exhausted arms and letting them fall back into the current.
If this were an Esther Williams musical out of the old days, the soundtrack would be playing Chopin’s Funeral March. There were certainly moments when the soundtrack to Jaws also crossed our minds!
It Takes a Certain Kind of Character
Self-centred, obsessive, inconsiderate, short-tempered, condescending and relentless, Bening’s Nyad is an individual hard to like. But then if she wasn’t this way, she probably wouldn’t have succeeded in accomplishing her goal.
Her coach and friend Bonnie Stoll (performed with great guile by actress Jodie Foster) is a softening, long-suffering influence, but not enough to keep us from suspecting that Nyad’s dream is an empty Herculean gesture.
No Guts, No Glory, No Pain, No Gain—and At Times, It Seems, No Sense
The movie is directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, who won a Best Documentary Oscar for the acclaimed film, Free Solo, about rock climber Alex Honnold. It is a story about a character whose prodigious faults and monumental blind spots – typically regarded as weaknesses – are depicted as foundational for Nyad’s ultimate triumph.
As her sidekick Bonnie remarks in the movie, in a judgement at once generous and exasperated: “She’s a badass, and she doesn’t suffer fools and she’s smart as hell.”
That’s right on the money. See this movie if you can!