"The World's Fastest Indian."
A Film By Directed by Roger Donaldson. Staring Anthony Hopkins, Iain
Rea, Tessa Mitchell. - Review By Eric Renderking Fisk-
motion pictures have very few ties to the decades we call
"The Golden Era" or World War II, like this one. But this movie captures what I believe is
the true "Golden Era" spirit - people living full lives while making an
attempt at accomplishing something despite incredible odds. I would like
to think that's what the 1930's and 1940's were about, people overcoming
the near impossible, whether it's poverty and starvation during The
Depression or tyranny and fascism in World War II.
Almost every great story about that era so many of us obsess over
have one thing in common - a great character with humble beginnings who
has it in his or her mind to either do something great that's never been
done before or stop something horrible that should never have begun.
Anthony Hopkins plays the eccentric motorcycle enthusiast and
tinkerer Burt Monroe - a man who in real life broke a few records in the
late 1960's with a 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle that he modified on his
own in a small garage in a small town in New Zealand. While his modified
bike is an extraordinary machine capable of going over 200 miles per
hour, the real exceptional part of this story is Mr. Monroe's boldness
and inability to quit.
I relate to anyone who tries to see something old or ordinary in a
new light and admire someone who won't let go of old things and tries to
make them knew again (ahem...). I want to cheer anyone on that wants tokeep
some things the way they are, like saving a landmark in any home
town or keeping a classic vehicle running. Anyone who takes a clunker
that rotted in the back yard for years and restored it to it's former
"show room" glory gets extra points in my book.
Burt Monroe's efforts are admirable; to take his first motor bike that was already
40 years old when this story begins and prove that it's the fastest in
the world after his modifications. It's quite a thing
seeing a retired man who refuses to slow down - both figuratively and
literally - waking up at the first light of the day and put all of his
energy into casting new pistons and testing them out, much to the
frustration of his newly-awakened neighbors. There's a drive and
determination that's to coveted, how great would the world be if all of
us had something that motivated us to do something different and better
Burt had this one driving ambition beyond just making his motorcycle
go really fast - proving it at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah during Speed Week.
But not everyone sees his ambition the way I do. Many folks in his
home town see him as an eccentric old coot and a loser with a dream he
should just forget. It's impossible, he's never going to even make it to
Utah, and even if he reached Utah he wouldn't get the bike running or
break any speed records if he accomplished that... his dream is
His dream is almost crushed when he learns about his heart condition
and is told that he doesn't't have much long to live and that his
motorcycle riding days are over.
But there are a few others who know he has a pretty fast bike (like
the local bike club that challenged him to a race and he passed them like
they were standing still...) who want to see his dream of going to The
Bonneville Salt Flats who turn his birthday party into a fund-raiser.
Then there's the boy next door who's his assistant and acquires some of
the tools he needs, like his mom's carving knife Burt needs to trim off
the treads on his tires.
The motion picture becomes something else entirely once Burt begins
his travels with his Indian motorcycle and they're loaded on to the boat
bound for America. He works on the ship as the cook and dishwasher
during the crossing of The Pacific Ocean. Once on the American west
coast he deals with culture shock and we're shown this country
through his eyes.
While he sails through customs when he tells them about why he's
there in the states, he has trouble adapting to such things like driving
on the right hand side of the road, getting a car that won't break down
during the drive from L.A. to Utah. There's the short parade of strange
characters who inhabit "The Flamingo Hotel" such as Tina Washington the
transvestite clerk. Tina is a huge help to Burt who thinks Tina is a
There are the few trials he faces on the road, but he's helped by
some of the strangers he encounters who at first seem eager to help him
because they have nothing better to do but eventually are caught up in his
youthful enthusiasm. The Used Car dealer who let Burt use his garage the
night after he bought the car sees that Burt is a magician with motors
invites him to stay, saying he'll always have a job waiting for him.
Then there's the widow who helps Burt when the axle on the trailer
caring the motorcycle falls apart, and the Native American Jim (played
by Saginaw Grant) who lets him spend the night at the make-shift camp
where his family lives. The two stay up all night talking as if they're
life long friends. Almost every one who meets Burt (sans cab drivers,
traffic cops and highway patrolmen) like him and invite him to stay.
His personality is addicting, and this movie could have been a little
longer or a mini-series.
Once Burt reaches Bonneville, he has other obstacles to overcome,
such as convincing the officials to let him run despite not being
pre-registered. How was he supposed to know that he's was supposed to
file the important paperwork when he's from the other side of the globe
in a pre-internet world?
Burt's new friends and fellow racers such as professional racer Jim
Enz played by Christopher Lawford petition and harass the Bonneville
bureaucrats into letting Burt prove that his bike is safe enough. It's
his life, he's an old man - so what if he gets himself killed.
you scared you'll kill yourself if you crash?
No... You live more in five minutes on a bike like this going flat out
than some people live in a lifetime.
Once he's given the go-ahead and leaves the pacing cars behind in his
dust as if they're parked cars and not doing almost 100 miles an hour,
he's given the OK to run the next day. After Burt attempts to fix what
might be a major flaw in his bike, his big moment finally arrives.
Judging by the title of this movie, you know how it ends. But it's how
its filmed that keeps the audience on the edge of the seats. The motion
picture ends in triumph. And I hope that the lessons taught in this film
sink in and people remember what happened for a long time.
Granted, this film is a conglomeration of the life and
accomplishments of Burt Monroe. In fact, Burt made many trips to the
Bonneville Salt Flats and raced many different times, not just once. And
the records he set then are still unbroken. But that's not what I think
is the point of this film. The aspect of this film might be lost on many
people, few are going to understand. The fact that this isn't just a
"racing movie" will go over some people's heads.
The whole point of this film is a life lesson for all of us
(including now 40 year old webmasters in Southern New Hampshire,) Nobody
is ever too old to accomplish something, to meet and exceed their own
goals. We take it for granted that there is always going to be someone
who will tell us that something is too dangerous and that the time to do
such daring things is behind us. Ironically, while we grow up we're told
that we're too young for doing such things as building a machine that
goes really fast, or really high, or really deep into the ocean. We
allow society to restrain us, and we restrain ourselves by swallowing
the "Can't" pill that's prescribed to us every day.
It's as if society has a built in "survival mechanism," Everyone is
either too old or too young and that there's a very brief season to
accomplish anything. To play it safe, nobody sends the letter in the
mail that says "Congratulations - your time to accomplish great things
is NOW!" The world is full of petty, small people who want to restrain
others to validate their own small lives and dismal accomplishments.
It seems to me sometimes that only an elite few are allowed to be
anything. There's only a handful of people who are chosen to do great
things - you have to be born into the right families, have the right
educations and work for the right corporations. You need a government
agency or an elite foundation to give you the nod to reach for the
stars. We want to believe we root for the upstarts and the underdogs,
but how many of us actually do in real life. We buy into that notion
that only those "born" into greatness, if we're failures in life it's
because "they" hold us back.
How many of us have been jealous of something someone else did and
got made because we felt we were "held back." Don't feel bad if you
raised your hand, because I'm guilty of that myself. On too many
But, those people who are 'born' into greatness hardly ever do. It's
the people who have to overcome society's obstacles and restraints. It's
as if those restraints are what refine people, like the weights athletes
use to train and build muscles. It's almost as if the pests, bureaucrats
and administrators who say 'can't are like the rubber bands in the
slingshots that we push and pull against, the tension that springs back
when we yell "Can" and we fly through the air and hit the target when
we're ready to let go.
"The World's Fastest Indian" is a huge, entertaining lesson for all
of us. You don't need the latest most advanced, state-of-the-art gadget
to do what you want. There is no age restriction in meeting your goals.
Burt Monroe (at least as he's portrayed by Sir Hopkins) has the perfect
yet contradicting personality qualities - self deprecating humor and
unwavering boldness. You just do what you want to do so long as you're
not hurting other people or a burden to society.
You just do it. You just do what you need to do. What you have to do.
Don't let anyone say can't.