Diana Nyad is a larger-than-life person. She is an Olympic swimmer, a correspondent for ABC Sports, a radio host, and an indelible pop culture icon. Nyad is famous for being the first and only person to swim from Cuba to Key West, 110 miles over some 60 hours.
The film “Nyad” directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin brings Nyad’s story to life with the vividness of a graphic novel highlighting a superhero.
Diana Nyad (Annette Bening) is nearly sixty and she still has a goal. She wants to complete her swim from Cuba to Key West, as she has since her first attempt at twenty-eight. Her friend Bonnie (Jodie Foster) thinks she is nutty and driven. Nyad will not hear of any objection. It is her life goal. Bonnie reluctantly agrees but loves seeing her friend happy. Nyad trains as one possessed with heart, focus and dedication. All elements must run with detail and precision.
Bening is excellent here in portraying the water warrior of ice blue eyes who yearns to be indivisible with the sea. Nyad is shocked into being a woman of iron, an ultrasonic mover of water and light but the condition calls for nothing less.
Foster is also terrific as Nyad’s loving friend, faithful to a fault. The actor has a glib and humorous rapport with Bening that captures Bonnie’s exchanges with the bounce of a stand-up comedian.
This film does not pull its punches. The aquatic road becomes dense, mountainous, and nearly impassable—a hellish highway of endless fire water. Each time Nyad tries, she immerses herself into her collective consciousness: memories of her swimming triumphs along with her pain of abuse at the hands of her coach who she once idolized. Her swimming journey is one part paradise and one purgatory bearing the lashing scourges of struggle. Nyad the water nymph is at odds with the box jellyfish. Nyad’s story is a gladiator epic, blue and blistering and the sea creatures come at her with venom and vitriol, from the knight helmeted bull shark to the luciferic jellyfish with her tentacles of Jezebel.
The ocean Is tinted red as Nyad becomes both her hero and ours, tossed by the lash of waves and burned by stings.
In 2013, after five brutal attempts Diana Nyad emerges on the Key West shore, her legs cement, her lips bruised and swollen. She is a boxer born from the sea, raised up from endless bouts of danger and dizziness, finally victorious.
This is not just a sports story nor is it merely a suspense story, but it is ultimately a portrait of determination with focus, empathy and friendship running through the goal like a magic helix.
“Nyad” illustrates with verve and color that heroes are not just to be found on planets or in far-away dimensions, they are also right here on earth and in the ocean, swimming proudly as women.
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