Review: Senna by Asif Kapadia

I was in seat 10E. An aisle seat on a Delta airplane that was traveling from Atlanta to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. I had just finished driving the 2013 Infiniti JX35, and I was ready to settle in for the long haul as the twin CFM International engines prepared to do battle with the winds from the west. Typically, I have trouble sleeping on any flight but this flight I planned on staying up anyway. In my hands was my iPad, in my ears were my Shure SE315 headphones, and on my screen was an icon that was simply titled Senna.

Released initially in 2010, Senna has slowly made its way on screens both big and small around the globe. This documentary is the work of director Asif Kapadia and writer Manish Pandey, and the two have been racking up award wins and nominations at seemingly every award event around the world. It was time for me to grab a copy on iTunes and watch it for myself.

Senna was put together by combing through any and all footage the filmmakers could get their hands on. There are no modern shots of those speaking about Ayrton, but rather voiceovers by those who were a part of his life. The footage is raw at times, as it ranges from old home movies of Senna both as a kid with a go-kart, and a man driving his hard-earned boat through the waters in and around his native Brazil. Of course, as Senna rises through the ranks towards Formula One dominance, the available material rises with him.

Kapadia and Pandey show the world that Senna was a man who had but one focus when he strapped himself into his machine. He didn’t simply hope for a win, he had to win so that he could feel complete in life. The film shows the difference between Senna and rival Alain Prost quite clearly, and at times makes Prost out to be somewhat of a villain. Still, the film balances that out by showing the darker side of Senna’s own tunnel-vision focus.

As my Boeing 737 rushes through the night sky, the film begins to rush by as well, and I notice that I am nearing the end. Not just the end of Senna, but the end of … Senna. There is no surprise ending to this movie, and we all know what happened at Imola’s San Marino Grand Prix on May 1st, 1994. Hell, we all know the name of the corner. Still, the accident hits me like a ton of bricks, and I’m glad the plane is dark and my single-serving friend to my right is fast asleep. Clearly, the cabin filtration system is working poorly, because dust got in my eyes.

Despite knowing that scene was rapidly approaching, Kapadia handled it well. He added drama to dramatic footage that has been seen countless times by countless folks. It wasn’t just the loss of Ayrton that triggers emotions either, but the reactions of those in the sport and back home in Senna’s homeland. Ayrton Senna was far more than a skilled racing driver to the people of Brazil. He was a national icon, a hero, and a shining beacon of hope in a country where very little of that existed.

Today is the 18th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death. You should go watch the film, not to be reminded of that, but to learn more about the man, and remember the good that came with the bad.

Bonus clip: the always-excellent footage of Senna making loafers and white socks look cool…

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