Days of Thunder is such a fun movie. For any who haven’t seen it, it’s Top Gun in race cars. Literally. Despite its therefore necessary fluff and Tom Cruise preening, Days of Thunder has at least one moment of true profundity. Here it is:
I would argue with Claire (Nicole Kidman) on one point: I don’t think that most people “automatically know” that they are basically unable to control anything about their lives. In fact, I think that the human impulse is to control every aspect of life, and we react very badly when control either slips away or is wrested from us. Want evidence? Just try telling someone that free will doesn’t exist. See how they react.
I do, though, think that Claire is right in her main assertion. Control is often an illusion. Cole’s assertion that he desires to “control something that’s out of control” (his racecar) is an obvious contradiction in terms. Even if he is able to control the car he’s in, he can’t control the other “infantile egomaniacs” on the track.
As Claire points out, we can’t even control the goings-on within our own bodies! We can put braces on our teeth, Norvasc in our blood, Paxil in our brains, collagen in our lips, and silicone in our breasts…but we can’t control the only thing we’re really trying to: aging and death.
This urge to control goes all the way back to Eden when Adam and Eve desired to “be like God,” i.e. to be in control. The result of their decision is that we all desire control and, most nefariously, have convinced ourselves that we have it. The upshot of this delusion is that, as our sense of control rises, our feeling of need (especially for a savior) wanes. Better to acknowledge the truth of the situation, that we are perilously out of control, both internally and externally, and are just moments away from a debilitating crash.
Eyes open to the realities of life, and our lack of control, we are much more likely to cry out for help, and therefore to receive it.