Ford v Ferrari explores the meaning of passion
“There is a point, at 7000 rpm, where everything fades.” That was the opening line of the monologue spoken by Caroll Shelby at the beginning of this movie. Little did I know that it was the start to one of the best films I’ve seen all year.
Ford v Ferrari—directed by the eclectic James Mangold—is a rare film. A film that left me in deep, soulful contemplation long after it ended. Before I went to see the film, I’d already known most of the story. As this story is a well-documented event in racing history, I didn’t expect to be completely blown away by it. I also brought a friend along with me who, like most people, didn’t really care about cars or racing. Despite all this, both of us ended up deeply enjoying the film. Making a film that can do that requires serious talent.
The story is fairly straightforward. In the mid-1960s, Ford soured its business relations with Ferrari while trying to purchase them. Enzo Ferrari, disgusted by Ford’s offer, threw the most vile, venom-laced insults in Henry Ford II’s direction. Following this, the Ford Motor Company embarked on a long, dangerous mission to defeat Ferrari at the notorious “24 Hours of Le Mans” endurance race.
The story revolves around two legendary men—Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon, and Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale—and one incredible car: the record-shattering, history-making Ford GT40. I love how accurately the film portrayed these two men. Shelby—the straightforward, stubborn, car-maker—is a man who has gasoline coursing through his veins and a heart that’s in sync with his car’s engine. And Ken, well, is interesting.
Ken’s story is one of perseverance, pain, anguish, and triumph. He’s a man who always has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and one who always strives to be the very best. He’s temperamental, indecisive, and reckless, but despite all his flaws, he remembers what’s truly important in life: his friends, his wife and young son, and racing—his lifelong passion.
“The luckiest man is one that knows what he wants to do, for he will never have to work a day in his life,” said Shelby in the middle of the movie, as he made a speech announcing Ford’s decision to challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. One of the things I loved most about the film was how it explored its main theme—passion. Even if you’re not into racing at all, you can understand the obsessive, blazing desire inside the hearts of these men. Being a creative, passionate pioneer often also requires you to be a stubborn, brazen, rule-breaking renegade, and even make some sacrifices in order to do your very best work—ideas that the film incorporated seamlessly.
Another aspect I loved was the film’s tireless commitment to historical accuracy—both visually, aurally, and story-wise. Everything about the setting was reminiscent of the 1960s, from the brands, to the cars, to the clothing, to the weirdly misogynistic posters. My favorite easter egg shot was one in which a Trans World Airlines ticket briefly flashed into frame. Once one of the largest airlines in the world, TWA is a company that’s now been all but forgotten.
A lot of films, including ones aimed at car-enthusiasts, use generic car-exhaust noises, so every car sounds about the same—not this film though. Every noise was both real and distinct. One of the best moments of the film was when Ferrari’s Le Mans racer and the Ford GT40, driven by Ken, wrestled for first place while flying down the Mulsanne straight; the shrill, high-strung, soprano of Ferrari’s V12 contrasting spectacularly with the low, grizzly, baritone growl of the GT40’s V8.
The best thing about the film is how it made me reflect on its themes. There was a moment at the end that made me think about what real racing truly is. As the events unfolded on screen, I found myself thinking about the ending of Pixar’s 2006 film, Cars. The epiphany I had when I realized how the events of this true-to-life story may have inspired Pixar’s kid-friendly version was awe-inspiring. Crossing the finish line has always had a popular symbolism in our modern zeitgeist. But for me, this film reframed the idea of crossing the finish line together and sharing a victory. It gave me context that helped me see how this idea evolved over time and morphed into other branches of our culture. Is a shared trophy worth as much as one you won alone?
The ending is genuinely tear-jerking. There aren’t a ton of films about cars that are genuinely moving, but this one was different. To James Mangold and to everyone who worked on the film, I tip my hat. People would’ve gone to see a film that had loud, noisy cars just because it had loud, noisy cars. But the creative and production teams behind this movie put their heart and soul into this. They were passionate in the same way that Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby were passionate; that is a compliment that money can’t buy.
When I went into this film, I thought that it would focus on American exceptionalism and pride—after all the GT40 remains the only American car to ever win at Le Mans, winning its last trophy in 1969, half a century ago. For an American car enthusiast, knowing this story is a rite of passage. But as the film went on it became clear that winning wasn't everything.
There’s more to racing, to one’s career, and to life than winning. It’s about family, the friendships you make along the way, and most of all, it’s about the drive. It’s about watching the world disappear at 7000 rpm when you’re so immersed in something you’re passionate about that you forget about the little everyday annoyances that never truly matter. That’s when you really start living, rather than just existing. That is the epitome of human existence. That is real racing.