I had a few hours to kill yesterday morning, and although I knew it wouldn’t be for me, I had heard only good things about Le Mans 66. I will spoil it, or try my best at least.
I am not a car person. More a snowflake beta-cuck than a mans man. I picked my car up from a service last week and when the cost was 4 times what I had expected, I skimmed the list of parts and services, acted like I knew what what they were and just handed over the money. I feel threatened by people who know what they are talking about and feel there is some expectation that I should too.
Man and Machine
The relationship between men and cars is a strange one. There seems to be some disjunct between humans and technology as expressed in the film. Henry Ford II creates cars on a mass scale, factory lines of machines all making the same product. Ferrari is idolised for it’s sports car, we are told looking around the factory that each part is hand-made, which makes it that much more intimate – there is more of a craft, a relationship between man and machine.
When Ford initially try to produce a sports car in competition, they load it with data logging machines and sensors that apparently can’t detect the problems that are picked up by it’s very human driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). He makes a claim that disputes the robot, rips it out and makes his point by sticking wool to the outside of the car. He is the motor-whisperer. He uses a female pronoun when talking about the car, and it feels genuinely more sensual than possessive. He has tapped into its potential, he knows that she wants to go faster. It honestly sounds like he wants to fuck it.
Story goes: Ford try to make a deal with Ferrari, but are used and then insulted. Italian grandfather-figure Enzo Ferrari sends a message to Henry Ford II that he is fat and that his wife is a whore. This is motivating factor for Ford to want to win the prestigious 24 hour race in Le Mans, almost foaming at the mouth when he says that he wants to win.
They employ previous winner and driving celebrity Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to manufacture the car, and he in turn hires the emotionally volatile Ken Miles as driver, to talk to the car, grease her up and find out her secrets.
The film opens with Matt Damon waxing spiritual in voice-over about the point at which a driver experiences transcendence, apparently around 7000 RPM (which to me feels just as arbitrary as Doc Brown’s 88mph). At this point apparently, the car ceases to be and the man is just floating in space. Or something to that affect. It sounded like a float tank.
Ken’s wife is introduced in the film playfully roleplaying as a stranger at his garage, knowledgable about cars and turned on by the whole culture. They have a son (Noah Jupe), with whom Ken talks about cars mostly, they sit beneath the stars pondering the existence of the ‘perfect lap’. Young Peter plays with Scalextric, has model cars around his room and later his father’s trophies under his bed – the ultimate phallic prize for winning this manly competition of racing.
This 12 year old becomes my surrogate as he crudely sketches out the course of Le Mans and has his dad trace over each turn in the road explaining his method. In any other film I would feel patronised, here this is my lifeline. The connection between father and son through cars feels quasi-spiritual, this scene feeling similar to Four Lions when the father tries to explain martyrdom to his son through the analogy of The Lion King.
Any scene where I’m left alone with the grown ups makes me feel lost. They talk about parts and models, they make quips that make the men in the audience chuckle. When things get technical, I imagine those in the know, the manliest of men, are hypnotised with desire. The first 2 hours of the film felt like a segment from Strickland’s In Fabric.
The actual race in the last half-hour I did really enjoy. After Le Mans, we watch Ken get into a fatal accident and then skip ahead to Shelby visiting his family. He takes with him a symbolic gift: the wrench that Ken had thrown at him before winning a race. Before handing down this phallic baton, he explains in the most masculine of ways, that it is more consoling than words, it is a tool that can fix things.
The sound of the engines roaring are a constant throughout the film. They hum and vibrate with varying intensity, growing with the tension of each race, effectively working just like the score.
More than this though, at one point the noise is used as a practical tool. A slimy executive is locked in a glass walled office and his shouts are drowned out by the revving of an engine.
In the final moment of the film, as Shelby returns to his car after giving the wrench to Ken’s son, he is still for a moment and tears form in his eyes. As one falls down his cheek, there is the abrupt grief-cancelling noise of the engine, as he wipes away his sadness, drops his sunglasses and drives off.
This is why you never see your father cry