Powerful ‘Nyad’ Movie Review: Foster & Bening Triumph in Inspiring Swim Tale

Marathon swimmer Diana Nyad has just completed an incredible 53-hour swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida in the 2023 sports biopic, “Nyad” on Netflix. Facing unpredictable currents, sharks, and box jellyfish, Nyad emerges from the water with a swollen face and an exhaustively tired body. In this moment, she shares three powerful messages: never give up, you’re never too old to chase your dreams, and even though swimming may seem like a solitary sport, it truly takes a team. These seemingly clichéd words resonate emotionally, reflecting the uplifting tone of the film.

The film centers around Diana Nyad, a renowned long-distance swimmer who gained national attention in 1975 by swimming around Manhattan in record time. Three years later, she attempted to swim from Havana, Cuba to Florida while enclosed in a 20×40-foot steel shark cage. Unfortunately, strong Westerly winds prevented her from completing the swim as she continuously collided with the cage. The film picks up over 30 years later with Nyad, now 64 years old, living with her best friend Bonnie and going about their daily activities like grocery shopping and playing scrabble. Despite the mundanity, Nyad constantly reminisces about her past achievements as a star swimmer, expressing frustrations with the mediocrity she sees in the world. Like many individuals who once graced the spotlight, she struggles to let go and confronts the reality that the world may have moved on from her. However, Nyad discovers that she still has unfinished business with the world.

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Nyad, whose name means “water nymph”, decides to make a remarkable comeback to the water at the age of 64. The film emphasizes Nyad’s self-obsessed personality, unapologetically highlighting her constant reflection on past accolades. When told by Bonnie that she suffers from a “superiority complex,” Nyad defiantly responds that perhaps everyone should have one. Additionally, the film touches on the sensitive topic of sexual abuse that Nyad experienced at the hands of her coach during her youth. This trauma damaged her self-esteem and led her to embellish and inflate her own achievements.

Between 2011 and 2013, Nyad made three attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. Accompanied by her dream team, which includes Foster as her coach and John Bartlett as her navigator, she faces various obstacles. Despite being pulled out of the water multiple times due to an asthma attack, a box jellyfish bite, and unfavorable weather conditions, Nyad refuses to give up. On September 2, 2013, after an astonishing 53 hours in the water, she finally completes the swim, becoming the first person to do so without a shark cage.

The film beautifully portrays Nyad’s unwavering determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Her stubborn insistence on moving forward despite external factors is both inspiring and moving. Equally heartwarming is the enduring bond between Nyad and Bonnie, which combines aspects of mentorship, friendship, and family. Annette Bening and Jodie Foster deliver powerful performances, solidifying the film’s inclusion in Oscar discussions.

However, it is important to note that questions surround the legitimacy of Nyad’s historic swim. The World Open Water Swimming Association has not ratified her achievement due to concerns over her use of a specially-designed jellyfish suit and instances where she was touched by various individuals during the swim, which goes against the rules of marathon swimming. Nevertheless, the filmmakers, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, emphasize that their film is not about records or technicalities. According to Vasarhelyi, “Our film is not about a record. It is not about how many times someone was touched. It’s about how a woman woke up at 60 and realized she wasn’t finished.”

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“Nyad” is currently available for streaming on Netflix, offering viewers a glimpse into the extraordinary journey and indomitable spirit of marathon swimmer Diana Nyad.

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