“Men love women, but even more than that, men love cars.”
It may be said instead, after watching Rush, that men—at least those competing in Formula 1 racing in the 1970s—love to win. They would sacrifice even their lives to beat out the competition.
Directed by Ron Howard, this biopic follows the rivalry between hotshot English playboy/cad James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and his rigid and disciplined Austrian opponent, Niki Lauda, at a time when safety rules in racing were incredibly lax and successful drivers had status akin to superstars.
The audience’s exposure to the gratuitous drinking, sex and drugs that Hunt indulges in is surprisingly minimal. Told and narrated from the conservative and focused perspective of Lauda (played by Daniel Brühl of Inglorious Basterds fame), the majority of the action is focused on the races themselves. Very tight shots of how the cars themselves are working, feet as they shift gears, and the eyes and views of racers as they careen around the track at 180 mph makes you feel like you’re the one in the driver’s seat.
The relationship between Hunt and Lauda is one of fierce competition and unending devotion to beating the other. Lauda is injured badly when his car crashed and was engulfed in flames during the 1976 Grand Prix at the Nürburgring (that was, in fact, the very last time the German race track was used for Formula 1 racing), it was partly due to the impact of Hunt’s charisma when addressing other drivers during consideration to cancel a race.
When Lauda recovers, Hunt says, “I feel responsible for what happened.”
“You should,” Lauda replied. “But trust me: watching you win those races, while I was in hospital fighting for my life, you were equally responsible for getting me back in the car.”
The movie delves deep, though not incredibly so, into the personalities and lives of each man. Certain questions remain unanswered (How did Hunt get into racing in the first place?), but for the most part the relationships of each with other key players in their lives are comfortably developed.
Howard keeps track of their journeys by creating a parallel between the events they each go through: their marriages, their racing mantras, and their personal struggles. For Hunt, it’s his struggle to grow up and take responsibility for his actions and his own safety. For Lauda, it’s his inability to form emotional bonds with others. But for both men, their obsession with racing provides both an obstacle and a catalyst to obtaining their own happiness.
“Stop thinking of it as a curse to have been given an enemy in life,” Lauda says, quoting advice he once received. For he and Hunt, life revolves around the chase and the push to do better and be faster. By the end of their journey together, they both have to decide whether competing is what will come to define their lives.
“The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel,” said Hunt. “It’s a wonderful way to live. It’s the only way to drive.”