NYAD. Annette Bening and Jodie Foster Fearlessly Navigate Sharks and Eye the Oscars [REVIEW]

“Nyad” is available on Netflix.

Jakub Piwoński

28 February 2024

The surname of the protagonist, which is also the title of the film, refers to a mythological water nymph. It is supposed to underline the literal connection of the main character with water and suggest that Annette Bening, who plays her, did not “jump” into this story by chance. She carries on her shoulders very valuable morals, while also warning against the seductive voice of ego.

The Oscar race in the female acting categories is very interesting this year. The film that stands out is one that does not aspire to major accolades but boasts two truly remarkable performances. Jodie Foster’s return to the top tier of acting made headlines a few years ago due to her brave coming out, and recently we have had the pleasure of following the star in the latest season of Detective. However, in the film Nyad, she plays second fiddle, portraying a coach and also a friend to the character played by Annette Bening. It’s another strong female name, which has had its ups and downs in the filmography. This time, at the age of sixty-five, the actress is once again at the peak of her game, presenting herself in excellent physical condition. Bening and Foster have been nominated for Oscars for their roles in Nyad; it’s really hard not to root for them.

In this regard, Nyad grabs attention right from the start. The actresses form a cohesive duo, their relationship seems authentic, and they portray characters who heavily rely on each other. This aspect is crucial in Nyad because it prevents this decent yet somewhat clichéd story from sinking.

Here we have yet another film that, with a touch of pinkwashing (characteristic opening credits), sells us a story we already know well. Nyad is a figure embodying traits of determination and resilience, previously portrayed in many films, especially in sports-themed ones. However, my first association after watching the Netflix production was with a documentary, also available on Netflix, from last year, “The Deepest Breath”, in which we met a fascinating yet ambivalent character of an Italian freediver who broke all possible records of free diving, but paid a high price for it.

What’s the ambivalence about? It’s about cheering for a character in her unwavering plans while simultaneously realizing there’s something toxic in her actions, reminiscent of a slow descent into darkness. The same goes for Nyad. Personally, I was rooting heavily for the character played by Bening during the movie because the idea of pushing the limits of one’s body in your sixties seemed fascinating and incredibly empowering to me. However, my wife, with whom I had the pleasure of watching the film, represented a completely different approach to Nyad’s actions. For her, it was bravado and a sign of unprecedented egocentrism, endangering her adventure companions.

Fortunately, the film ends with a neat happy ending, or we would have argued about Nyad. But that’s not the point. Indeed, it is an example of a film that evokes conflicting emotions, prompting us to reflect on where the boundary of human determination lies. The film’s protagonist, based on the real-life figure Diane Nyad, had to swim over one hundred and seventy kilometers. She swam through open seas, accompanied by sharks, jellyfish, in the “accompaniment” of storms. Moreover, deciding to swim from Cuba to Florida, she was already at a respectable age. It could have been safely assumed that there were no physical conditions to achieve this irrational goal. But against all odds, she succeeded.

So, what I take away from this story revolves around reconciling with the forces of nature and riding the “wave” of the achieved connection to pursue a dream—no matter how impossible it may seem. It turns out that with the right arrangement of pieces on the chessboard, surrounding oneself with the right people, and nurturing the so-called mindset, there are no goals beyond our reach. It’s a trivial conclusion, I know. Sometimes, the simplest messages are also the most effective.

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

See other posts from this author >>>