A movie with either a fictional or real-life rivalry between two people always brings something compelling to the table. And it seems the nastier the rivalry is, the more classic it frequently turns out to be. But it seems that most rivalries in movies lately have been more epic scale rather than grounded and based in reality. Ron Howard’s “Rush” somehow managed to take a real-life racing rivalry and depict it as big as life as it really was. It was a cinematic character relationship we needed to see again.
What made the rivalry between race car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda interesting is that both had fates that didn’t necessarily make one win over another. And it was also a rivalry that didn’t become personal once one of them (Lauda) ended up nearly being burned to death after a crash at the German Grand Prix.
Yes, this rivalry is much more multi-layered than the ones we usually think of where one is ultimately victorious over another by the film’s end. Even though the film has the irony of Hunt dying at a young age in 1993 while permanently scarred Lauda still lives, it shows that real-life rivalries usually have far too many twists and turns. It’s why movies about real-life rivalries are usually much more interesting. Sometimes it can come down to mere words as we saw with another Ron Howard directed film about a rivalry, “Frost/Nixon.”
The worst ones end up augmenting situations just to create drama that was never there. “Amadeus” may be the worst offender in this category between Salieri and Mozart. Nevertheless, it still made for compelling drama and had the same ironic trajectories as the Hunt/Lauda rivalry.
A cinematic rivalry that doesn’t show a clear winner is simply the best formula for this genre when it’s so easy to have one fall over another. When film decided to go epic with rivalries starting with “Star Wars” and Luke vs. Darth Father, it didn’t bother to use the ambiguities we’ve seen with a more realistic clashing of horns. While some might think Darth Vader still won because he was redeemed in spirit after death, it created a dynamic of bad vs. good in movies that culminated more recently with Voldemort vs. Harry Potter.
More recent rivalries lately are of the epic scale and in the comic book world. The ambiguity lines are sometimes there, though with ultimate outcomes that mostly seem to prove otherwise. They don’t always involve the other rival dying and can even give the impression that neither one are anywhere near a definition of good. We all know the Joker vs. Batman rivalry in “The Dark Knight” might be the best example of this ambiguity the comic book movie genre will ever have.
It’s why we need to see more real-life rivalries taken from the past and depicted on screen. Many of them are nearly forgotten, waiting to be told, and as big as life as Hunt vs. Lauda. We’ll see at least one soon with Walt Disney vs. P.L. Travers in “Saving Mr. Banks”, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson.
Regardless, there’s many more from Levant vs. Gershwin to Tesla vs. Edison. And in almost all of those cases, there’s enough eye-popping irony in their outcomes to bowl you over in how interesting the real world is when compared to fiction.