Stock car races, drag races, Formula 1 races, Indy Car races, sports car racing – from their worldwide popularity, you have to conclude that participating in and watching car races is more than an entertaining pastime. Especially the road races are metaphors for life’s journey where individuals and communities strive to reach a common goal. Drivers must be fully present and tuned in to the moment. Spectators feel the energy emitted from the track and the crowds. They recognize the importance of agility and adaptability. They learn to face the possibility that anything could happen on the road and they could lose control.

Ferrari captures these aspects of sports car racing from the perspective of Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver). He and his wife Laura (Penelope Cruz) built a company to produce some of the most beautiful and fastest cars around, but it is on the verge of bankruptcy. To attract buyers he needs to win a big race. So he puts together a team to race in the Mille Miglia, Italia’s premier motorcar endurance race. He believes if Ferrari can win, the demand for the brand will revive his company.

As Enzo chooses drivers and supervises the building of the cars, the pressure on him is increased by problems in his personal life. He and Laura are still grieving the death of their son Dino the year before. He also has a young son, Piero (Giuseppe Festinese) with Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley) who is pressuring him to give the boy his name.

Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari (center front)

Ferrari is directed by Michael Mann, who was excited about recreating the atmosphere of the racing culture and Italian life in 1957. And the cars themselves offered endless lessons. Adam Driver recalls Mann saying that it’s hard not to get philosophical about an engine, because it is a metaphor for a lot of things: “It’s like a million parts that have to move in perfect synchronicity and perfect timing for it to function. And the minute one piece is off, the whole thing collapses. It’s very much a metaphor for making films.”

The race sequences in the film are thrilling and terrifying. A crash in a village results in the deaths of 11 people, casting a pallor over the race’s outcome. Besides Enzo, the viewer gets to know some things about the key drivers, adding to the suspense. By the end, Mann has achieved what he said he wanted to do in an interview:

“I wanted to put you in the driver’s seat. I wanted you to experience the savage beauty of these powerful machines as if you were in the shoes and looking through the eyes and feeling with your hands on the steering wheel what these drivers are. I wanted all that to be experiential.”