Review: Senna

From start to finish Senna never stops delivering inspiration, hope, anger, frustration and danger, and all rooted in real events, shown only with archive footage. A documentary that steps beyond documentary trappings.

As a follower of Formula One I cannot believe it has taken me so long to watch this film, perhaps it is due to recent declining interest with the sport as a whole. I was only ten years old when the tragic events of 1994 occurred, and I only remember imagery as I wasn’t avidly watching the sport then. So to watch Senna now is a truly chilling and eye opening experience for me.
The film follows Formula One’s legendary Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna from his humble beginnings as a Go-Kart racer to his dramatic, fraught years in the World Championship. Years that would forever change the face of the sport.
The film uses only archive footage and adds commentary of prominent individuals (such as McLaren manager Ron Dennis) to carry the narrative across and relay their personal experiences with the man. The total lack of “talking heads” or any modern day footage makes the film all the more intense and important.

And what importance there is! Senna shows the overriding tension when Aryton first joins the F1 scene, making waves and making an enemy within talented French driver Alain “The Professor” Prost, who would become his team mate in the McLaren team. The men are shown for who they were, not dressed up; we see Senna as an emotionally driven man with his heart upon his sleeve, while Prost is more calculating and underhanded. Betrayal and back-stabbery is rife to the point of shocking.

The film shows Senna not only as a genius racing driver, but also as an idol for an entire country; Brazil itself empowered by one man’s incredible talent and ability. One cannot help but see him as an inspiration, as someone rising to the top from obscurity and giving hope to millions.

The future of Formula One is also subtly (and less subtly) addressed, and as someone who has followed the sport I fully appreciated this. Immediately you can see how vulnerable the drivers were within the cars, and we are shown several instances of how incredibly dangerous the sport really is. We are also shown something of a shift in the sports nature towards the end, the introduction of technology that replaces the need for driver instinct and skill. Very prominent!

While it is a very morose watch (whether you know the turn of events or not) there is heart and incredible honesty throughout, much like the man himself, and there are quotable moments from all of the main “cast”. Senna gives his feelings on F1 multiple times: “It is square”, and “is too much money, too much politics”.

An honest and utterly compelling piece of reality captured in footage and music. To have so many prominent sporting figures feature and give account to one man’s legend in such a way makes for a perfect homage. If you want to know one sport’s greatest, and most tragic, moments… look no further than Senna.

Additional Marshmallows: Aryton Senna’s openness and opinions about the sport is terrific to hear, one imagines the man would not be happy with how the sport has evolved, becoming more about the car and the technology than the man behind the wheel.

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