A year removed from my original theatrical viewing of this 2010 documentary had me just as involved, just as worked up and just as satisfied with an amazing film.
Aryton Senna is considered by many as one of the greatest Formula 1 race car drivers of all time. He amassed numerous World Championships and racing records before his life was cut short in 1994. This documentary doesn’t set out to sway opinions or put Senna upon a pedestal, instead it gives you a bird’s eye view of the life and ultimately faith, of Aryton Senna.
Completely constructed from Formula 1 archival footage and Senna family home video with voiceovers from family members, the film focuses on the late 80’s, early 90’s portions of his career. You see footage from controversial races, cockpit cameras as Senna pushes his car to the edge and a handful of crashes all mixed in with personal footage and shots from his home country of Brazil. This is a broad stroke yet effective picture of the rise of a man to the top of his career and the inspirational impact he had on his home country. The film is as much”pro living life to the fullest” as it is what some would call “pro Senna”. We see glimpses of what his life was outside of racing but we never see fully behind the curtain and therein lies the strength of the film.
The complaint levied on the film comes from the Alain Prost (Senna’s biggest rival/competitor) supporters who view the film as one sided and making Senna out to be a victim and Prost out to be a villain. That view is very narrow minded and frankly it ignores the last quarter of the film which showed Prost and Senna together in a very different light. No one will debate that Senna was an aggressive driver that was racing out of his mind at times, but he also brought out the best in the rest of the field. His rivalry with Prost was just that, a great rivalry between two great drivers and you have to look past the hostile moments in the film to see the respect that they had for each other.
Senna is as much about racing as it is about life, faith and the sometimes devastating consequences of pushing yourself to the limit. The most difficult moment comes during the lap of his fatal crash. We are shown the view from his on board camera with nothing but the sights and sounds to take in. Knowing the outcome doesn’t make the moment any easier and you are left with more questions than answers about Senna’s state of mind before the crash. Broad strokes, not opinions.
You do not have to be a fan of Formula 1 racing to enjoy this film and while my love of the sport certainly enhanced my viewing pleasure Senna isn’t enjoyed because of its fanfare to the sport. The film has no motive to get you to choose sides, nor feel sorry for a man who risked his own life every time he pushed the limits of his profession. It doesn’t ask you to praise him as a hero or put him up on a pedestal It is a small glimpse at one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time and one of the best documentaries ever made.