These lyrics bracket a powerfully moving record of the 2005 Race Across America. A skillful blend of artistry and documentary, this film captures the human condition like few others.
Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer prize winning work, The Denial Of Death is written on the premise that mankind’s efforts are ultimately an elaborate, symbolic defense mechanism against the knowledge of our own mortality. I have seldom encountered a film that captures this life drama as powerfully as does Bicycle Dreams.
Viewed through this lens, the duality of man’s struggle in the physical realm, while being consumed with his achievement of immortality through heroism, is poignantly driven home in the film.
For one rider, this ‘necessary heroism’ takes shape in his touching of his limits to endure torment. He has rubbed elbows with pain for 15 years in his work with AIDS patients who suffer endlessly. His drive comes from caring for others. Ironically, it is his charitable nature that ends his race, when his limits are determined by his unwillingness to sacrifice those he loves. But in determining that limit there is triumph, for it was the discovery of the limits that sent him across America, not necessarily the reaching of the Atlantic.
For another rider the desire appears to be a fight to beat down the childhood voices proclaiming him to be destined to ‘amount to nothing’. He will sacrifice everything to prove the voices wrong, even a longtime friendship, for to not triumph would be to face self-annihilation. Only when he’s unable to picture his wife and son in his hallucinating mind does he waver.
Several of the riders address the issue of our involvement in the natural realm. Modern society’s accomplishment of comfort and safety has distanced us from a primal ‘desire gene’- the will of the body to exist. We’re left longing for authenticity, but so often find ourselves in a reality padded from primal existence.
There is a seduction in the stark reality of endless hours on a bicycle in the desert sun, or against a ceaseless headwind. Whether its cresting a summit to breathtaking vistas, or retreating into one’s self so deeply that sight and sound are muffled, the Race Across America experience plants our feet firmly in our physical selves and in the natural realm.
Teamwork isn’t under the direct focus of the lens, but is evident everywhere throughout the film. The utter dependence on his team forces one rider into the shame of not being completely autonomous. Breaking through his illusion of being independent, barriers no longer have to be maintained and he is free from a fantasy of absolute self-determination.
And then there’s the twist that knocked me on my can. Seldom is gut-wrenching grief captured so powerfully on the screen as in the scenes after the soul is wrenched from the race when tragedy strikes in Colorado.
This film isn’t for those who want to shy away from the tragic side of the human experience, unwilling to risk the cracking of their shell of denial, not willing to risk their coping mechanism.
Bike Dreams moves us to break through the barrier of the fear of death, finding that we will emerge on the other side scathed, but alive. Much more alive, for to maintain the shell of denial consumes tremendous energy, better used in serving others.
From one of the central riders in this event, Bob Breedlove, we’re reminded that “At the end of your life if people say you were kind, that is enough.”
And we are free to touch others kindly when we can get beyond ourselves, a message hammered home in this powerful film.
I highly recommend it.
“I have reason to believe that if I turned myself inside out I’d get out alive.”
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