‘Rush’ reveals what drives us

“Rush” (2013). Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Pierfrancesco Favino, Christian McKay, Colin Stinton, Augusto Dallara. Director: Ron Howard. Screenplay: Peter Morgan. Web site. Trailer.

The drive for success is a curious phenomenon. What impels it? And why would anyone pursue it with seemingly unrestrained fervor, especially when the prospect of danger lurks at every turn? Those are just some of the questions addressed in the new, fact-based auto racing drama, “Rush.”

The world of Formula One grand prix racing was abuzz in 1976 with the rivalry between two talented but very different drivers, England’s James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austria’s Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). The devil-may-care Brit drove with reckless abandon, his foot lodged to the pedal to push for whatever speed he could muster out of his McLaren machine. Lauda, by contrast, was the consummate tactician, who believed that preparation was everything when it came to readying his Ferrari for the track, a carefully calculated strategy that helped him earn the Formula One world championship title the year before. But, despite Lauda’s success in 1975, he faced very different circumstances the following year, as this film shows.

The rivalry between Hunt and Lauda actually began in 1970, when the drivers both competed on the Formula Three circuit, a training ground for the big show. They established their personal and professional styles, both on and off the track, at that time. Those styles often clashed, too, yet they formed the basis of the competitive relationship that would grow between them as the years advanced.

Lauda broke into Formula One racing by basically buying his way into it, making a mark that eventually helped land him a spot on the famed Team Ferrari. With the backing of an established racing team financed with the deep pockets of Enzo Ferrari (Augusto Dallara), coupled with his meticulous sense of preparation, Lauda prospered on the track.

Hunt, on the other hand, got into Formula One with the backing of Lord Alexander Hesketh (Christian McKay), a racing enthusiast who bankrolled his team’s effort out of his own pocket without the benefit of corporate sponsorship. With Hunt at the wheel, the team achieved some moderate success, but it wasn’t enough to sustain a continued effort. Faced with the prospect of having no ride for the 1976 season, Hunt approached the head of McLaren Racing, Teddy Mayer (Colin Stinton), pleading his case for being named a team member. Mayer was reluctant, given Hunt’s reputation for recklessness (and for his sometimes-unsavory off-the-track exploits), concerns for some of McLaren’s sponsors. But Hunt convinced Mayer that he could win the title if given the chance, and so he got his ride.

With Lauda still behind the wheel at Ferrari and Hunt now firmly on board with McLaren, the stage was set for the showdown between these two rivals on the 1976 world racing tour. And what a tour it was – a campaign characterized by cutthroat driving, accusations of cheating, life-threatening injuries and personal courage pushed to the limit. The outcome was quite a rush, indeed.

“Rush” expertly illustrates the lengths that our beliefs can push us to in seeking the fulfillment of our goals. Both Lauda and Hunt were so fixated on manifesting a world title for themselves and their teams that they would do almost anything to realize that outcome. And their success during the course of that fateful season showed just how committed they were to the beliefs underlying those efforts.

Of course, a willingness to do anything to win also reveals the potentially dangerous side of our beliefs, specifically how they can be transformed from the engines of dreams into the vehicles of obsession. Such thinking thus illustrates what can happen when un-conscious creation takes hold. This can carry grave consequences, too; such a loss of perspective often results in tragedies that may have dire impact on other aspects of our existence, including our loves and even our very well-being (if you doubt that, just ask the drivers’ wives, Marlene Lauda (Alexandra Maria Lara) and Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde)). Learning how to judiciously temper our beliefs when necessary is crucial under such circumstances, especially when considerations even bigger than winning a world championship are on the line.

It’s also important that we understand the role all of our creations play in the greater scheme of things. A perceived setback, for example, may well prove to be a key motivator. For instance, when Hunt’s wife announces that she’s leaving him to pursue a relationship with actor Richard Burton, the driver channels the energy fueling the beliefs behind his anger into his racing, a move that enabled him to achieve better and more consistent results than he had attained prior to that point of the season. Hunt’s success, in turn, pushed Lauda to boost his efforts, encouraging him to focus his beliefs on achieving victory even more intently than he had before. Ironically, Hunt and Lauda thus ended up becoming not only rivals but also inspirations for one another. (Who would have thought that would happen at the season’s opening?)

In their own ways, Lauda and Hunt each symbolize the elements that go into successful belief formation. Lauda, the gifted technician concerned with materializing the physical means for attaining victory – a fast, finely tuned car – embodies the intellect. This rather cold, mechanical approach to racing didn’t win him many friends, even if it did win him races.

Hunt, by comparison, is more preoccupied with the intangible essence of what makes a successful racer – mastery over speed, a principle to be surmounted, no matter how it’s accomplished – a metaphysical quality symbolic of the intuition. He relished the thrill of racing, despite the danger, in much the same way he embraced all of the other joys life has to offer, an approach that made him wildly popular with friends and fans (not to mention the many racing groupies who flocked to the tracks).

And, while Lauda and Hunt may have each placed their focus on a different aspect of effective belief development, their combined efforts managed to produce a pair of competitors whose pooled results couldn’t have yielded a closer finish in the championship points standings by season’s end. Indeed, it’s quite a story, one that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats until the final checkered flag drops.

“Rush” is a fairly typical offering from director Ron Howard, solid in virtually every respect from start to finish. It doesn’t quite measure up to his more notable works, like “Apollo 13” (1995) or “A Beautiful Mind” (2001), but it certainly is a fine piece of filmmaking. The racing sequences are thrilling, and, as one who was once a grand prix racing aficionado, I can attest that they’re re-created with astonishing authenticity, right down to the paint jobs on the cars. The on-track story clearly works better than the soap opera off-track drama, but the performances across the board are quite capable, especially for the two leads, who bear uncanny resemblances to their real-life counterparts.

Despite the film’s strengths, there has been some debate about how accurately the story portrays the rivalry between the two drivers. Some have suggested the bitterness is overblown, while others have said it captures the Hunt-Lauda relationship perfectly. One thing is for sure, though – there definitely was mutual respect between the rivals, no matter what level of personal dislike may or may not have actually existed between them. Regardless of where “the truth” lies, the story told here is a good one, even if it takes dramatic license.

Achieving a cherished goal is quite an accomplishment. Few feelings outstrip the sense of fulfillment that comes with achieving a desired objective, especially one into which we’ve poured our hearts and souls (not to mention our beliefs). “Rush” depicts this with remarkable clarity, showing us the rewards – and the price – of success. But, most of all, it illustrates what propels us to attain a coveted outcome, a revelation into ourselves that may be the grandest prize of all.

Copyright © 2013, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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