5 True Stories of Achieving the Impossible

By | Begun 02/26/2016 | Updated 07/07/2016
Posted in Cross Cuts |
Five people, ... five impossible dreams ... five extraordinary realities.

This weekend at the movies, we’re treated to two openings involving portraits of people who achieve the apparently impossible: astronaut Gene Cernan and Olympic ski jumper Eddie Edwards. Together with last week’s opening of the new film of Olympic track sensation Jessie Owens (still in theaters) – and also in light of the dreams being pursued and honored at the Spirit and Oscar awards this weekend – we’re enjoying quite the smorgasbord of fuel for our own fires.

Let’s take a look at them, as well as two more I’ve added for good measure, riffing off both Cernan and Edwards, with accounts of another who was laughed at until he wasn’t, and another who unequivocally did the undoable.

What is your moment of glory that you’re reaching for?

The Last Man on the Moon (Gene Cernan)

Eugene Cernan in Last Man on the Moon (Gravitas Ventures, 2016)

Gravitas Ventures

This film received the Texas Independent Film Award from the Houston Film Critics Society this past January, and it was our profound honor that Cernan himself attended to accept it. He is humble, graceful, and contains an inarguable steel backbone and unbridled joie de vivre within a serene demeanor that has no doubt saved his life on thousands of occasions. Remember how Sandra Bullock was always seizing those grab bars in Gravity? She could do that today because the designers back then learned on the job that grab bars were necessary – because Cernan was out there without any. And that’s just one eye-widening element. Don’t miss this one.

Story: (Documentary, Action/Adventure) Captivating documentary about astronaut Eugene Cernan, to date the last person to set foot on the moon since 1972, including the nature of the adventure and the sacrifices it required of both the astronauts and those who love them.

Eddie the Eagle (Michael “Eddie” Edwards)

Hugh Jackman with Taron Egerton in Eddie the Eagle (Twentieth Century Fox, 2016)

Twentieth Century Fox

This one’s the very definition of “crowd-pleaser” and backs it up with substance and heart. Given that Jackman’s character doesn’t exist, I wish they hadn’t built his storyline so extensively (Edwards was apparently trained by two coaches in America); however, the fictional element doesn’t detract from the accuracy of Eddie’s experience, so I’ve left it at 4 stars (vs. High 3, which I considered). Jackman’s character is used to spectacular effect in demonstrating Eddie’s aspiration and challenge, and provides a nice container for Edwards’ remarkable story, which but for this aspect remains faithful. Eminently worth seeing (and I’ll never watch the Olympic ski jumping the same way ever again).

Story: (Comedy, Drama) [Mostly] true story of the British underdog who made it into the 1988 Winter Olympics, defying logic, mythos, gravity, and an interminable multitude of disdainful naysayers.

Race (Jesse Owens)

Stephan James as Jesse Owens in Race

Focus Features

One of humanity’s greatest inspirations, full stop. He was such an incredible individual, and the larger story reminds us that it’s not one group’s battle against another, but rather all our battle, together, against the wrong itself. Strong performances and Rachel Portman’s score compensate for its tendency to lag (how’s that for irony?), and what it lacks in cinematic gravitas it more than makes up for in nobility, inspiration, and heart. Get this one on your watchlist!

Story: (Drama) True story of legendary track sensation Jessie Owens and his participation in the 1936 Olympics, held under the sinister hand of Adolph Hitler.

Rudy (Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger)

Sean Astin as Rudy

TriStar Pictures

“When they tell you a dream can’t come true, tell them about Rudy.” I watch the last ten minutes of this one whenever it tools by on tv, and it still brings me to tears every single time. Not only is this one a testament to sheer unmitigated perseverance, it’s one beautiful piece of filmmaking as well. The crisp mornings, the heady anticipation, the bone-crushing collisions, and the anguish of something so close, yet so far away. Keep your eyes open for Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughan before they were Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughan.

Story: (Drama) True story of a 5′ 6″ young man with low grades and a blue collar background who simply refused every No in his quest to play football for Notre Dame University.

The Other Shore (Diana Nyad)

Diana Nyad in The Other Shore


Where our first hero took on the perils of space, our final one takes on the perils of the deep. At 26 she swam around Manhattan, and on her 30th birthday she swam from the Bahamas to Florida. It was to be her last “competitive swim”, but that one dream simply would not let go: the swim from Cuba to Florida. So she did it. No shark cage. No breaks. Thirty-four years later. Truly, this film is one of the most breathtaking portraits any of us are likely to see of pure grit, determination, talent, and vision, and it’s the very definition of “unforgettable.” You want to get something done? Watch this one.

Story: (Documentary, Action/Adventure) Documentary of world-record-setting long distance swimmer Diana Nyad and her quest to swim from Havana to Key West, culminating with her fifth and final attempt at the age of 64.

To quote Nyad and echo every other here: “Find a way!” And these are the folks to help us do it!

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