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That Moment In ‘Fearless’ Where The Streets Have No Name

Fearless is a 1993 drama about a man who survives a horrific plane crash and is overwhelmed with a powerful sense of invulnerability as he searches for meaning in his fate, having profound effect on his family and a fellow passenger who can’t accept her own survival.

It’s generally considered that 1993 was a pretty significant year for cinema, with a number of profoundly influential films released, not the least of which being the one-two punch from Steven SpielbergJurassic Park and Schindler’s List. So it’s not hard to imagine that a few very good movies got lost in the shuffle, ones that perhaps sent to theaters a year later might have had better exposure. Peter Weir‘s immensely underrated and underseen Fearless is certainly one of them, a sensational existential drama that is arguably the director’s best, featuring a remarkable set of performances from its leads. Woefully underappreciated, this is movie that deserves more attention. Let’s take a look.

Fearless
Fearless, 1993 © Warner Bros.

Jeff Bridges is architect Max Klein, traveling from San Francisco to Houston with is business partner Jeff (John de Lanciewhen their plane suffers hydraulic failure and begins to rapidly descend. When it’s clear the plane will crash, the passengers naturally panic but Max somehow stays calm, suddenly accepting of his expected oncoming death. He leaves Jeff’s side and takes a seat next to a boy who is traveling alone and assures the child that everything will be okay.

Fearless
Fearless, 1993 © Warner Bros.

The impact destroys the plane, killing hundreds, but Max and a few others manage to make it out alive, including the boy. The event wholly transforms Max, instilling in him a tranquility he’s never experienced and an appreciation for life that heightens every waking moment, seemingly giving him powers over the frailties of his former life. He begins to question the very fabric of existence, caught in a limbo between the real and unreal. As the world continues to revolve around him normally, he moves as if possessed by a spirit, aching to test his feelings of invincibility. It puts great strain on his family, with his wife (Isabella Rossellini), desperate to understand.

RELATED: 4 Mostly Forgotten Films of Peter Weir

An airline appointed psychiatrist (John Turturro) works with survivors and encourages Max to meet with Carla Rodrigo (Rosie Perez), a young woman who walked also away from the crash though her baby, traveling with her, was lost. She has succumbed to debilitating depression and survivor guilt and won’t communicate with anyone, shutting herself in her room. Max agrees, and the platonic relationship that Max builds with Carla grows in small steps, but their connection is powerful, each traveling in different directions from the accident but soon to collide as they face the truth about what they have become. This leads to a traumatic moment, a turning point in the story and one of the most moving sequences in modern film.

Fearless
Fearless, 1993 © Warner Bros.

Carla is a deeply religious woman who can’t understand why her god took her child but left her alive. The numbness she feels leaves her hollow, lashing out at anyone she can blame. Max, who has shared her experience, is the only one she clings to, the only worthy companion in this painful new existence. They spend a great deal of time together, slipping further away from the regular world, eventually feeling like ghosts, believing they are unseen by the unfortunate living. All the while, Carla longs for her lost son.

One day, she suddenly breaks down in the car with Max, convinced that she is the reason her baby died, claiming that as the plane hit the ground, she let go of him and he fell away. She is to blame. Max tries to console her, telling her that she is not at fault, but Carla regresses to fits of agony and guilt, rocking in the seat in anguish. Max tells her she is guiltless, however she hears only confirmation that she is her baby’s killer, her explosive sadness so powerful it pushes him out of the car like a surging wave. Overwhelmed by her sorrow, he paces on the backstreet, wracked with shame, now feeling he is responsible for her outburst.

Fearless
Fearless, 1993 © Warner Bros.

In desperation, he spots something in the distance and makes a sudden, jarring choice, one still secret to us. He gently guides Carla to the back seat and straps her in carefully. From the trunk, he removes a toolbox and places it in Carla’s arms, telling her her it is her baby, convincing her that she must keep hold, not to let go, as she continues to weep and pray for her soul. He tells her that this is her chance to hold tight, to save her baby from the crash and so she clings to the red box as if it were so. He then climbs behind the wheel and drives down an alley, accelerating quickly, holding the wheel straight and eventually ramming the car into a reinforced concrete wall. The toolbox flies from her hands and crashes through the windshield as the vehicle crumples under the ferocious impact.

Fearless
Fearless, 1993 © Warner Bros.

Max’s journey is about a cheated death, at least in his eyes, one perhaps made by shifting seats as the plane went down. His survival has left him lingering in a state of limbo, walking this thin line with troubling uncertainty. He feels unwarranted, his escape from destruction not earned. Carla on the other hand longs for her own end and wants nothing more than to trade places with her son, gripped by doubt and remorse. These two points of view ride parallel for much of the movie until this moment, when each finally collide with the other.

Notice how Max takes responsibility for Carla’s sudden breakdown, believing his actions have convinced her that she is at fault, even though that’s not really the truth. Pushed outside the car, he paces in search of a way to ease her suffering, to make her see how wrong she is. I love how authentic this feels, with Bridges outside the car, everything collapsing around him. He’s already told her it would be impossible to hold a child while crashing at hundred of miles per hour, though the science of it all are lost on her. But how to convince her?

Fearless
Fearless, 1993 © Warner Bros.

His choice to put physics in charge and physically demonstrate his point is a truly jarring moment, especially as it begins to dawn on us what exactly he’s about to do. Stares at the wall (unseen by the audience) is crucial. It’s a decision meant save his friend’s life but perhaps end his, something he has been contemplating since the accident, eerily convinced that he can’t die. God won’t kill him. While he’s stood on precarious roof tops and recklessly crossed busy thoroughfares in attempts to come to grips with these feelings, this choice for sacrifice suddenly strips away the fearlessness he’s been carrying since the accident.

However, the fear is essential to both convince Carla she is wrong – thereby freeing her of that guilt – and be rid of the turmoil he himself is endlessly circling. As he barrels toward the wall, certain this is his real moment of death, he pleads with Carla to pray for them, his tone not one of belief, but almost of contempt for the whole of it. All this happens while U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name rises in the background, the crescendoing strumming riff adding great urgency to the moment while the tune’s title is easy connect with the backstreet setting, and more importantly, the insignificance of his own perceived life.

Fearless
Fearless, 1993 © Warner Bros.

Note too the graffiti on the concrete wall where Max makes impact, a large red heart wrapped in barbed wire with a single, wide open eye staring at Max as zooms towards his target. Great love, symbolically representing his family, held captive by the tortures of his break from reality, are always watching over him, even as he crashes into it. It’s a tragically beautiful sequence in a film that challenges us to consider greatly our own place in this random life. It’s a great cinematic moment.

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