The name “Ayrton Senna” may not ring a bell in your head, but don’t let that stop you from making a trip down to the Varsity Theatre in the upcoming weeks.
The biographic documentary “Senna,” which chronicles the life and death of the legendary Formula One racing driver, is appropriately fast-paced, thrilling and surprisingly poignant.
Produced entirely using archive footages of Senna’s races, public appearances and home videos, it is amazing what director Asif Kapadia and writer Manish Pandey have managed to produce without technically creating anything. The film uses many aspects of Senna’s career and personality to cinematically capture arguably the most important facet of his life – his fervent passion for race car driving.
Ayrton Senna, born and raised in Brazil, made a splash in the Formula One racing scene when he first debuted back in 1984. He went on to win three world championships and, to this today, is regarded as one of the greatest F1 drivers ever by both industry experts and race car drivers alike.
Using a personality with that caliber of talent as a subject would have easily made for a good documentary film, but “Senna” isn’t just good. It is great, much like its namesake, because the film does not just present Senna as a legend, but it also paves the path he took to get as far as he did for the audiences to properly comprehend his reverence. Senna was a genius behind the wheels, but he was a force to be reckoned with even when he wasn’t racing. His highly publicized rivalry and fallout with French F1 driver Alain Prost is effectively used to highlight the extent to which Senna valued finishing first.
In “Senna,” we see a hero who was clearly an extraordinary race car driver, but who was by no means the F1 golden boy of the era. He did not receive a fairly earned shot at the world championship trophy in 1989 and was similarly wronged on more occasions.
The film keeps referring to the politics that prevailed in the fast track world of F1 racing during that era and uses that as an antagonistic device, even more than Prost himself, to highlight the challenges Senna had to overcome to become a three-time world champion.
Senna’s constant turmoil over the dangers and risks haunting his passion was another element of his career that presented itself as a road block. As he saw fellow drivers speed into messy accidents, his pain and torment was particularly palpable. In spite of all this, however, Senna never exhausted his passion for racing.
The greatest thing “Senna” does is that it goes the extra mile and properly shows the character’s life story by presenting him as the conflicted hero that he was. He was the underdog, going up against rival drivers and his own self by refusing to give racing up. For making it possible for everyone to witness the real Senna in this way, as opposed to James Franco or Tom Hardy portraying him in a Martin Scorsese directed Hollywood biopic, Kapadia and Pandey have to be applauded. In the end, “Senna” is a deeply moving film that will inspire many to pursue their dreams with a new vigor, but it may scare the others into abandoning that uphill battle for safer alternatives. Either way, it is sure to make an impact.
Show times at Varsity Theatre include 7:30 p.m. and 9: 30 p.m. every day. It is also shown at 4 p.m. on Fridays through Sundays and at 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.