Ayrton Senna was a Brazilian Formula 1 driver, who became infamous during the 80s and early 90s as being one of the greatest in the world, and for a much-publicised on-and-off-track feud he had with his McLaren team-mate, Alain Prost. During the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, Senna’s legacy became set in stone when he crashed and died during a race in Italy, provoking racing regulations to be reconsidered and ensuring he would be the last person to die during a race.
A few years ago I ran a project on this site to cross off films from the 1001 List that I was least looking forward to watching. Were I still doing that today, Senna would have placed very highly on that list, for several reasons. Firstly I’m not much of a documentary fan. Or rather, I’ve not seen many documentaries, and of the ones I have seen I’ve not liked all that many, with only The King of Kong, The Aristocrats and maybe Man On Wire coming to mind. Secondly, what little I already knew about Senna was that he died, and that his doc would cover that at least in part, so I could assume I’d be seeing elements of his death, and I learned from Gimme Shelter that I don’t enjoy watching people perish, not that I didn’t assume this already. Finally – and I feel this is the most important factor – I really hate cars. Not the Pixar film, that’s OK I guess, but the motor vehicle. I despise them, or rather I despise the act of driving. Yes, I can drive, and I do so from time to time, but only when it seems it cannot be avoided, and I hate every second of it.
Driving makes me agitated and nervous, I develop incessant skin irritation and grip the steering wheel so tightly it’s liable to shear in my hands. I cannot and most likely will never comprehend those people who seem to genuinely enjoy driving, something which is so inherently dangerous, and yet which modern society continues to make more comfortable and relaxing. Car seats should not be comfortable. Drivers should be in an almost constant state of mild pain and discomfort, to prevent any notion that their attention might slip from the road and world around them. As a society I feel we depend on cars far more than is at all necessary, and I’d estimate that about two-thirds of car journeys could be accomplished just as easily, if not more so, either on foot, via bicycle, or by using an improved public transport system, but alas everyone has gotten so used to having their own personal death-bubble that whenever I bring up this stance in public I am greeted with looks of derision and pity. I’m often questioned as to why I cycle everywhere – this past week has seen horrendous fog and icy roads, yet I still cycled to work every day without incident – and people assume that I can’t drive or don’t own a car. As far as I’m concerned cycling is by far the more sensible – and far, far less selfish – option. I feel I may have gotten a little off topic, so I’ll get back to my review, sorry about that.
So Senna isn’t a film that I had any interest in watching. Were it not present on the 1001 list, and were director Asif Kapadia not being celebrated for this month’s Director’s Chair over at the LAMB, I’d say it would be an absolute certainty that I’d never have seen this film, and now that I have I don’t think my life is in any way improved. Yes, I now know a bit more about Ayrton Senna, but I still don’t care about him. To me he is only noteworthy because of his policy-altering death, but the regulations it altered are for a pastime that I don’t even consider a sport, let alone something of value that should be celebrated. He may as well have been a three-time championship-winning fox-hunter, or placed highly in competitive not-picking-up-your-dog’s-shit competitions. The only positive aspect that I can see came from him was providing the nation of Brazil with someone to idolise and as a means of hope, which I’ll admit is a very worthy cause, but not enough to structure an entire documentary around.
The film itself is an impressive assembly of archive footage – nothing new was shot for this, and there are no awkward talking heads, instead we get audio comments from some of Senna’s family and colleagues. This is a great way to tell a story, and Kapadia should be commended for the stupendous amount of time it must have taken to sift through all the information and piece it together in a cohesive manner. The narrative kept me engaged for most of the duration, though it often felt a bit one-sided, casting those against Senna in a villainous light, whereas he was always a heroic figure, but that’s the opinion Kapadia wished to get across, and he accomplished this goal. I can completely understand people who are bigger fans of, or who are at least mildly interested in racing to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate this film, but it’s not something I can recommend to fellow non-fans like myself. As such, you can my rating, and this whole review, with a pinch of salt.
Choose Life 5/10