This movie is based on the true story of celebrity endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, played by Annette Bening. In the past, Nyad set sensational swimming records around Manhattan and from the Bahamas to Florida, all before the age of 30. But her attempt to make a 60-hour journey from Florida to Cuba fails repeatedly. Now at age 60, Nyad still thinks this trip will be her crowning achievement. But she has not trained for almost 30 years. Determined, Nyad invites her best friend and coach, Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster), to help her achieve this dream.
Flashbacks to Nyad’s childhood and earlier adult life fill in the gaps about how this persistent, daredevil woman became who she is. In her memory, there are deep and hidden waters of parental expectations and incidents of sexual abuse. Swimming became a refuge. Central to the story is the unshakable friendship between Nyad and Stoll. The swimmer’s stubbornness at the risk of losing her own life leads to tension between them. Will Nyad accomplish her heartfelt mission?
The film does an excellent job depicting how endurance swimming is both a physical and mental challenge. Apart from the fear of encountering deadly sea animals, loneliness in the middle of a vast ocean is the greatest enemy for endurance swimmers. The cinematography is a standout, beautifully capturing the vastness of the ocean and the isolation that Nyad experiences. It also captures her many unspeakable joys, of seeing the mysteries of nature like no one else. Despite Nyad’s arrogance and self-promoting tendencies, her obsessive commitment to reaching the utmost in excellence is truly remarkable.
Equally moving is Stoll’s long-suffering friendship with Nyad. Although Stoll sees all of Nyad’s self-aggrandizement and narcissism, she remains her friend. All her decisions, no matter how painful, stem from her love and care for Nyad’s wellbeing. Stoll’s devotion to Nyad is nothing less than sacrificial. Galatians 6:2 describes the gist of true friendship: “Carry each other’s burdens.” These two women and their friendship is a genuine picture of the unity of human spirits. (Rated PG-13. Netflix. Contains mature thematic material involving sexual abuse, some strong language and brief partial nudity)
Editor's Note: Although Nyad in real life is openly gay and atheist, these elements are not prominent in the movie. With this review, The Banner is not promoting Nyad's beliefs or values.
About the Author
Mary Li Ma is a member of Plymouth Heights CRC church in Grand Rapids, Mich. She holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University and now works as a research analyst for a national research center on education equity.