Disclaimer: I am a sucker for motorcycle flicks. I’m prone to love them more often than not.
Last night I saw Long Way Down. I was going to miss this as I wasn’t feeling my old self. Then I figured, I can feel not well while being entertained by McGregor and Boorman’s antics! It was just what the doctor ordered! I loved every second of the movie. My analytical abilities could not be invoked as I was sucked into it quickly. The friendship between Ewan and Charley is part of the appeal for me.
The duo rides from Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa on behemoth BMW R1200GS, bikes that make my ST look scooterish! My bike weights a bit over 400lbs; the maximum permissible weight of the GS is nearly 1000lbs and theirs were loaded with gear and easily topped over 800lbs. All drops—and there were many—required two men to upright.
What I truly loved and appreciated was the scenery and the diversity of the terrain and its culture and people—not to mention the rich differences in language. Botswana, Libya, Egypt, Sudan—very different places. The visuals are stunning. The various grades of sand, I found striking. I just think of sand as, well…sand. The roads, as diverse as the people, made the journey endlessly exciting.
There are many moments when Charley and Ewan’s hold diary chats. They wax poetic about their day but I would have liked even more. Inherent in their exchanges are really interesting nuggets of wisdom. Like when Ewan talks about why one goes on an adventure. You go to see what will happen and how you’ll deal with it. An excursion can be overwhelming—even scary—but you go anyway and you remain fully open to the experience and if you’re lucky you might learn a little about what you’re made of.
Another memorable moment for me was McGregor’s speculation on the kindness of strangers. He says that people sense that you’re out there on your own, that you are more vulnerable out there in the elements, you’ve come from far away. Most people want to reach out to you, to offer friendship, food and shelter. This motorcycle documentary poignantly brought home the kindness of strangers. I hope it helps demystify Africa to those who know nothing about the country beyond the headlines of war, torture and famine.
Near the end of the film, Ewan talks about the importance of being particularly careful near the end of a journey. Think about it: you’re almost home, you’ve just covered—in their case—15,000 miles and you’re feeling comfortable knowing that you made it. The problem is, this is a false sense of security. Ewan calls this the “most dangerous time” of a journey because of the propensity to let your guard down. Lurking nearby is an accident waiting to happen. In reality, the journey doesn’t end until you pull into the garage, shut the engine off and safely dismount. Be mindful of this always.
Long Way Down had many thoughtful moments, many of which were sad. Despite facing considerable trauma, children are children and they posses a resiliency that is amazing and optimistically hopeful. Meeting orphans, street children and children in impoverished families obviously touched the pair, as it did me and served as a reminder that while most of us live in relative safety and comfort and retire each evening with a full belly, people--particularly children--suffer every second somewhere on this earth. Something as simple as pencils and writing tablets are luxury items that bring joy to children who don’t have these resources.
(Skip political rant paragraph here, if you want). There is a point in the film where one of the riders mentions that Bill Clinton said that not acting on Rwanda was one of his major regrets. I won’t get too political here. After all, I voted for him his first go-round. His failure to act on Rwanda is inexcusable! He was told, he had every opportunity to do something. Guess he was too busy staining a blue dress! Sorry for that little digression).
Back to the film. I love Charley and Ewan’s whining! In some regions their struggles with sand that appears as if it could easily swallow the bikes with them on it are funny and frustrating—you feel for them. But there is a scene when they are on a particularly arduous road, replete with rocks, sand, and just plain old, bad. Along comes a skinny guy on a fully loaded bicycle who had been riding a gazillion miles on those same roads. It’s a funny and humbling experience for the tough motorcyclists. It is a great scene for the viewers too.
I enjoyed Ewan’s wife joining the group for a bit of the ride. They implied that she was “off” learning to ride so that she could join them. To me, she looked really newbie. Lots of falls—proof about good gear and how well it can protect you. I must say, I was ready when she departed for the film seemed to slow down when she joined the team. Yet, I think this was an important segment to add a different take on the journey. If nothing else, she was great with the townspeople and must clearly now have a deeper, more meaningful understanding of Ewan and Charley’s passion.
The ride into Cape Town is beautiful and I must admit to getting a little misty eyed. The duo are surrounded by other motorcyclists and I think they are all Beemers. It's quite a striking scene.
Did I like it as much as the first one? I don’t really know. But that’s not what’s important. I loved this enough to order my personal copy the second it becomes available here. Then, I’ll have “Long Way Round,” “The World’s Fastest Indian, and “Long Way Down” to get me through the winter.
I hope their next adventure brings them to the Americas.