Breaking the Pain Barrier
An ancient ritual
Rites of Passage
In Pursuit of Perfection
Achieving what we believe to be impossible is something that’s difficult to describe. When I finished my first half-marathon, I broke down in a flood of tears, overcome with emotion. For others, just watching something like the London Marathon is enough to inspire and impress. But why do we put our body through such agonizing pain? Why do so many of us seek out what we deemed impossible?
Netflix’s latest sport documentary, Human Playground, explores all facets of this question through various different extreme sports, from perilous free-dives and ice diving through to race-car drifting and sumo wrestling. Each chapter clocks in at around 40 minutes or so and with the narration of Idris Elba, shines the spotlight on different athletes from all walks of life.
The first episode tackles the pain barrier and what it means to break through that to the other side. From ultramarathon running to swimming in ice, the camera gives a full-access view to some pretty uncomfortable moments for these men and women, facing the full extent of pain head-on.
Another episode works in stark contrast to this and is aptly titled “In Pursuit of Perfection”. One of the most spectacular shots of the whole docu-series is here, with a surfer managing to ride a massive wave and doing so to perfection.
Alongside these juxtaposed episodes are chapters looking at how we incorporate games into tribal or ritualistic rites of passage, while the final episode switches things up and looks at the business side of extreme sports and our insatiable need to be wowed and stimulated by these endeavours.
Across the 6 episodes, there’s a genuine effort to incorporate sports and athletes from around the world too, which is great to see. So often you see these docu-series pop up on streaming services and they’re predominantly tailored for Americans (looking at you AppleTV.)
While the US does produce some incredible athletes, with over 200 countries across the world, it’s nice to find a docu-series like this that actively seeks out numerous people from all walks of life to be interviewed and take part.
The chapters themselves are essentially split into 4 of 5 different parts, with us introduced to different athletes. They’re interviewed about their past, hopes and future dreams, before we follow their journey into the deadly world of their chosen sport and what they’re looking to achieve. Once their endeavor is a success (or not, depending on the episode) then it’s onto the next country and athlete.
The format actually works quite well and there’s certainly a lot to like with this one. The visuals are fantastic and the interviews insightful, managing to really get into the headspace of these men and women as they set out to tackle the impossible. It’s hard not to come away inspired by some of the feats.
If you’re looking for a globally encompassing sport documentary with some jaw dropping shots to boot, Human Playground is well worth a watch.