Just a quick reminder that My Thoughts On… posts may contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film in question, please skip down to the section titled Why Should You See This Film? where you will find no spoilers!
A documentary on Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, who won the F1 world championship three times before his death at age 34. (via IMDb)
What I Liked
- The narrative of Senna is fantastic; although it is a documentary, it seems to play out more as a drama, because as the viewer, we never leave the action. Traditionally in a documentary, you regularly leave archive or new footage of the subject to hear the opinions of experts, witnesses, etc. But with Senna, the action hardly ever leaves the track, and all interviews are included as voiceovers, rather than as clips. The interviews that are included are mostly with those people who were directly involved with either the sport or with Senna, so we hear from Alain Prost, Ron Dennis, Sid Wakins, and Senna’s family, amongst others. They essentially become characters in the drama, narrating the story and allowing us to see Senna as a main character, in the same way that we would with any character in any narrative-led film.
- Senna comes across as a fascinating man. He was attractive, charismatic, hugely talented at what he does, somewhat reckless and determined. His relationships with other people within the sport are explored; his fierce rivalry with Alain Prost, for example, is given an awful lot of time, but we also see how close he was with Sid Watkins, the man responsible for the safety within the sport. We see how much he loved his country, and how we wanted to use his wealth and position to make life better for those less fortunate than him.
- There is a lot of footage from inside the car with Senna, and although by now we are used to seeing this in races on the television, it still makes things feel very exciting and scary. Especially given that I knew, as I think most people do, how the story ends.
- As I mentioned, I knew how the film was going to end. I think most people watching it, certainly in countries where Formula 1 is popular, will have known the outcome. But even knowing what I did, the last twenty minutes of the film, where the action slows up to show what happened over one weekend, was almost unbearably tense. I almost didn’t want to watch it, because I knew that two men (Roland Ratzenberger and Senna himself) were going to lose their lives. In the end, the climax of the film is moving and upsetting. It’s not often that you find yourself watching the moment when someone actually dies, and it did really affect me.
What I Didn’t Like
- There wasn’t much I didn’t like about Senna. I really enjoyed it, even as someone who doesn’t have a huge interest in Formula 1. But if I was to make one criticism, it would probably be that I felt that Alain Prost wasn’t painted in the most favourable light. A film about Senna has to include Prost, but it seems as though he was portrayed, particularly in that section of the film, as the pantomime villain. Just because the film is about Senna, it doesn’t have to assume that anyone in conflict with him is the bad guy. Apparently Prost himself has said that he regrets that the pairs’ subsequent reconciliation wasn’t included in the film. Although there is an argument to be made for the fact that the film isn’t about the story of Senna and Prost, it’s sad that it’s not clearer that by the time he died, the two of them were friends.
Why Should You See This Film
If you’ve ever read, seen or heard a review of Senna, you’ll have already heard this, but you absolutely do not need to be a fan of Formula 1 to enjoy Senna. Although, of course, the racing is front and centre, there’s an incredible human story at play here, about a man who conquered his sport, and it’s touching, beautiful and sad. Get your hands on it immediately, and watch it.