Senna is a film full of surprises. Firstly, I’m of an age at which I can remember many of the events it captured and secondly, I had no idea of the tragedy behind what I saw. Asif Kapadia’s masterly documentary takes hold of memories, history, a formula one racing car driver’s life and breathes life into it and all of the above. What amazed me is how much I remember of those years of grand prix. I remember the drivers, rivalries and key races. I didn’t watch the races religiously but clearly they, and Ayrton Senna, left their mark on me. Here is a documentary that tells me why.
This is not an ordinary documentary. Senna doesn’t feature interviews to camera. Instead, this is a film that presents events as they happen. The life of Ayrton Senna, his God-given passion to beat the very best, is portrayed through film footage and interviews at the time. We hear interviews with family but it’s never from a position in the future, it’s always within the moment. And that living within the moment is very apparent here, when every success depends on a flick of the steering wheel at speed. Intense concentration, to the extent that muscles go into painful spasm and Senna has to plead to his father after a win ‘touch me, but touch me lightly’.
The poignancy of the inevitable conclusion of Senna’s life hangs over Senna the movie. There is more than one instance in which Senna talks about his future, how God is giving him the chance to live a fulfilled life, that it hasn’t happened yet but that he has lived just half a life and he will find that happiness. When we see Senna’s pain as he watches fatal or near fatal crashes on the circuit, one in particular so close to his own accident, it’s about as much as one can stand with dry eyes. And then there’s the moment when his family kisses his empty helmet…
The rivalry with Alain Prost was known to me but not its extent and not its scope. It went deeper than I knew. And yet we see so many interviews with Senna’s pall bearers during this film and there among them is Prost.
The obvious question with Senna the documentary is will you like it if you’re not a fan of motorsport? Without doubt, you will. I may be familiar with the names from the late 80s and 90s (strangely, far more than I am with the drivers of today) but Senna is so much more than that. Here is the story of a young man who lived his dream, loving life but conscious of his God, who died aged 34. Younger than me. This was an inspiring tale. We can’t all be racing drivers living a dream, but we can aspire to stand out and achieve something special, all the time aware that we never know what may lie just around the corner.
You couldn’t make this one up.