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"The World's Fastest Indian."

A Film By Directed by Roger Donaldson. Staring Anthony Hopkins, Iain Rea, Tessa Mitchell. - Review By Eric Renderking Fisk- Bookmark and Share

The World's Fastest IndianSome 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.

Ren's RantsI 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.

Worlds's Fastest Indian Poster 2Burt 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 in life?

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 impossible.

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. 

Burt work shop

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 "wonderful gal..."

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. 

Burt Monrow BonnevilleOnce 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.

Tom: Aren't you scared you'll kill yourself if you crash?
Burt Munro: 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.

Burt and Jim

Burt's Test RunGranted, 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 occasions.

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.

Burt and his bike