Nyad, a film: petit plaisir #373
Wednesday January 17, 2024

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Nyad, the biopic about marathon swimmer Diana Nyad, who after four attempts (five, including her first attempt at the age of 30 in 1978) at the age of 62 to 64, finally swam the 102 miles from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida in 2013.

Now I can remember as a teacher, teaching current events to begin each class – we would watch for five minutes and then discuss the who, what, when, where, and why of a couple of stories each day just to practice the fundamental critical thinking skills and also to stay in tune and aware of what was going on in the world. And when Diana Nyad made her first couple of attempts in that first year in 2011 that were unsuccessful. I remember thinking the three attempts impressive, but how could anyone swim so far in such difficult waters full of hazards – jellyfish being the last hazard that nearly ended her life. And then she dared to try a fourth time in the span of two years.

And she did it.

On the 2nd of September, 2013, Diana Nyad at the age of 64 completed the entire swim unassisted something nobody – man or woman – has ever done before (two people, one man and one woman have, but they used shark cages), and without a doubt, it was one of our current event stories the following day ensuring that the class had the full backstory of her many attempts, efforts and revisions to her approach.

One detail I do remember while watching her step upon the shore of Florida was thank you. She defied barrier after barrier, and dispelled many stereotypes as well.

I have a feeling many TSLL readers remember when this event actually happened, but perhaps you like me, didn’t know the full backstory and that is exactly what this new film, Nyad, covers from the beginning in 2011 when she decides to to start training or 2010 when she began to train, and then she makes her first attempt in 2011.

The film was done with permission of the two main individuals who are at the forefront of the storyline – Diana Nyad and Bonnie Stoll, and if you watch the round-table discussion included at the bottom of the post with these two women and the actors who portrayed them – Annette Bening and Jodie Foster – each was the first choice to star as them in the film.

The four-time Oscar award nominated Annette Bening, 65, trained for an entire year to train with an Olympic swim coach (view one of the many interviews with her about the training here). Stunt doubles were rarely used even though two were on standby, but Bening shares in interviews she didn’t think it would look right, and so she wanted to be true to the story and to the character and do nearly all of the swimming scenes. During certain days of filming, she was swimming for eight hours, and as someone who enjoyed swimming before the film, she enjoys it even more now and admits, she is indeed a better swimmer now because of the training and preparation for the film.

I have included below a fantastic discussion with Annette Bening, Diana Nyad, and then as well Jodi Foster and Bonnie Stoll as they talk about the film, the process, Nyad’s observations about Bening’s representation of her on screen and much more.

One of the primary themes of the film is friendship, specifically female friendship. The film ultimately tells the story of Nyad’s journey to her successful swim, but the journey she shares would not have been possible without her team of around 40 people and specifically Bonnie Stoll, her best friend for over 30 years.

Bonnie Stoll and Diana Nyad are lesbians, but they are not in a relationship, and for many who don’t know these women or this story, assumptions may be made, so I feel it is important to point out regardless of their sexual orientation, they are similar in so many ways as the film conveys, but what the film also conveys is that they are uniquely different in their personality traits as well. Each respected each other’s journey and as they describe it themselves, and Jodi Foster speaks to this in the conversation that they’re really both solo people, Bonnie and Diane, and they meet around the age of 30, date for a mere second as they say and that was a nope!, but they remain friends because they respect each other’s work, efforts and approach to life. Foster goes on to say that while yes, they are each solo and living full lives, they meet along their life journeys in various ways to support each other.

And to give some perspective, if you’ve seen the film, maybe you knew this, maybe you didn’t. Bonnie Stoll was a professional racquetball player through the 1980s. She was so successful that at one point she was #5 in the country for racquetball. In fact, there’s a scene in the film where they’re playing ping pong and Jodi Foster’s character, Bonnie Stoll, states to Bening (Nyad), “Ah, now I know why you agreed to play ping pong with me. You’re trying to get me to be your coach for this.” At that point I didn’t really understand why it was ping pong prompted the ‘aha’ and why Stoll was so good at it. Anyway, as we know, yep, she does become Nyad’s coach.

To speak about the female friendship, Stoll ardently supports both emotionally and in the role of a coach, strategically Diana Nyad, and it is that relationship throughout the entire film that is inspiring. It is a reminder that we can be who we truly are, and we courageously permit ourselves to be ourselves, there are people, if we are willing to be aware of our own neuroses, our weaknesses, but also strong enough to be who we are and express our strengths putting them forth and ask for what we want, but also let go when people say no because as you’ll watch in the film, there is a moment where the friends go their separate ways momentarily, but they respects that the other individual has to do what they need to do.

Neither woman pushes, they don’t manipulate, but rather they genuinely respect each other. It’s just beautifully acted along the way. There is wonderful acting done by Rhys Ifans, who you may remember most famously from his role as Spike in Notting Hill. He plays the not so great roommate of Hugh Grant. Anyway, Ifans stars as the ship’s navigator for this journey, John Bartlet and does a phenomenal job in this role.

As I mentioned above, the film was done with permission of Diana Nyad, and much of the personal journey is drawn from what she shares in her memoir – Find A Way. If you know anything about Diana’s childhood as she was becoming the swimmer that she would become, the film parallels that with her motivation to show that she’s capable to not be held back by others’ limitations. And so there is so much that on a personal level you are rooting for her, but also on a grander scale you are rooting for her too. And she did it 64 years of age. She swam over a hundred miles over 60 hours from Cuba to Key West without any assistance.

Diana Nyad’s fortitude and determination is beyond inspiring, and as the film spotlights, one of the primary differences between the 30-year old Diana and the 60-year old Diana is her mental strength. Yet what I appreciated about was the lesson being taught that we can’t control when our success will happen, however you define it, whatever you seek to materialize. You can’t control the sharks, you can’t control the ocean, you can’t control the weather, but you can educate yourself about the elements you can’t control and therefore prepare yourself as best as you can. And that is the journey that this film takes you on. It’s all about the swim. That’s the central plot. It’s all about the swim. And you have this friendship that is going to navigate how to make this swim successful.

There’s a beautiful moment in the film presented by Foster, starring as Bonnie Stoll, when they are just a handful of miles away from Key West, on what will be the successful attempt. It’s great weather – clear skies, calm water, etc., so if Diana was just starting to swim on that moment, she would make it no problem. But at this point, obviously she’s swam almost a hundred miles. She’s exhausted, she’s fatigued, she’s hallucinating . . .

Jodie Foster’s character gets in the water with her and just treads water and just motivates and talks to her and tells her what she needs because she knows her as a person and as an athlete and what’s going on in our mind. And that’s the key part here too, our success. We may physically be able to do something, but we have to strengthen our mind.

Whatever it is you have set as your intention in 2024, your mind is an ally or a foe, choose to educate yourself about your mind, which we’ve talked about multiple times here on the podcast, but also the, the blog. Once you understand how your mind works, you have the tools to get out of your own way and you will reach the success that you seek.

Both Foster and Bening have been nominated for their roles it for the Golden Globes for SAG Awards and Critics Choice for Good Reason. No doubt they will be nominated for Academy Awards, which will be announced on the 23rd of January. Take a look at the trailer below, and find the film on Netflix now.

watching the trailer. I get teared up. There’s just so many subplots and sub-story lines that if you were looking for motivation, this is the film to watch. It came out in October, late October, 2023.

Have a look at the trailer below:

Watch the round-table discussion:

~Nyad was the Petit Plaisir of episode #373 of The Simple Sophisticate podcast, How to Nourish Your Creative Being: Cultivate An Artistic Hearth & Home


Episode 331 2

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