July 15th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORIES Liberal discontents take internal struggle to Shakespearean heights

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell charged: the process is the punishment

EUTHANASIA What Boudewijn Chabot can teach Victoria

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Taiwan's 'friends' make the Beijing cut

FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE NT abortion law oppressive towards health professionals

HEALTH Gardasil(R) and the man upon the stair, Part I

AFRICAN AFFAIRS Special force deals with scourge of poaching

MUSIC Andrea Keller: transpositions of death and grief

CINEMA Cars 3: On ageing without rusting

BOOK REVIEW Biggest democracy makes big strides

BOOK REVIEW A refinement of the Industrial Revolution


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Cars 3: On ageing without rusting

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, July 15, 2017

Regardless of what the aphorists say, the world is still focused on youth and winning. The subtext of much advertising, of television shows, of news stories and pop culture is that what really matters is being young, beautiful and successful.

At the same time, we all know that youth and worldly success are fleeting things, and that if we want a real, full life, we must look beyond them and live our lives for the greater good.

In 2006 Pixar released Cars, a beautiful film about how a brash and cocky young racing car, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), comes to realise that there is more to life than winning. And – unlike many such stories – the film ends with that car losing, as Lightning does the decent thing to help one of his older competitors get over the finish line first. Pixar followed with the detour of Cars 2, which focused on McQueen’s country hick tractor friend Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and his adventures when mistaken for a secret agent.

Now we have Cars 3, which builds on the ideas and themes from the first film. Lightning McQueen has become one of the “elder statesmen” of the sport, still in fine form and winning races.

But all that is about to change. A set of next-generation racers is entering the sport – high-tech supercars, precision engineered to exploit every little thing to make themselves faster, harder and stronger. Leading the pack is Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), an arrogant rookie who easily outpaces the older racers, and is particularly focused on beating McQueen.

Older racers of McQueen’s era are progressively retired, either willingly or unwillingly, to make way for the bright young things. Gone is the older cars’ camaraderie and joshing, replaced by an iron desire to win at all costs. In his desire to beat the young upstarts, McQueen overreaches and is injured in an horrific crash. In the aftermath, he disappears back to Radiator Springs, where he takes stock of his life. Unwilling to be pushed out of the sport, like his mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) decades before, he decides to submit to the same training regime as the next-gens, at a new custom built training centre, the result of his long-term sponsors selling their business to the “mudflap king”, Sterling Silver (Nathan Fillion). Sterling has McQueen train under the “best trainer in the business”, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).

In his anxiety to win again as soon as possible, McQueen chafes at the measured training that Ramirez provides and decides to take a different route – one that is more traditional and risky and that ultimately leads him to Doc Hudson’s crew chief, Smokey (Chris Cooper).

Cars 3 is haunted by ageing and mortality. Lightning McQueen is no longer a brash young racer, but he is unwilling to accept that he is getting older and can no longer do what he once did. He has to come to terms with his limitations and use them to his advantage. He sees what’s happening to his racing friends as a repeat of what happened to Doc Hudson and is desperate to fight against it. He doesn’t want his “legacy” to be a commercial brand, used to sell all manner of products. For him, racing is his life. He remembers Doc’s bitterness and pain, how he cut himself off from the world, and his friends, for decades until he got him back into the sport as his crew chief.

McQueen thinks racing was the best thing about Doc’s life, but Smokey sets him straight. He shows McQueen that the best thing in Doc’s life was McQueen himself, about how Doc found a new purpose, and much greater joy, in being a mentor, in helping a younger racer become better, as both a racer and a person. This, in turn, helps McQueen realise that there is more than one way to find joy and purpose in his own life.

Cars 3 is not bitter about lost youth or ageing; rather it shows there’s more to life than just youth, or winning. It builds on the first film’s argument that dignity and charity and honour are what make life worth living, and it does so in such a way that it can inspire the very young and the not so young in how to live.

A memory that has stuck with me was a conversation with a father of three young boys and how much he liked the first film, how he felt so deeply that it provided a role model that would help his boys become good, decent men. And is this not the point of all art – to make the world a better place, to help us see the world so that we might become better people?

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm