‘Blood makes you related. Loyalty makes you family.’
Sacred texts are really just stories we tell each other, codified through conversation over thousands of years, so there’s no reason to believe the same won’t happen with Fast & Furious.
In Judaism, the Old Testament is roughly diced up into five segments before we bow out and hand over the torch to Christianity. Fast & Furious realistically makes it to seven films before the wheels start to fall off, but even the early demise of the group’s metaphorical Jesus doesn’t stop them meting out biblical battles (F8 & The Furious, 2017) and, by way of sage meta-commentary, the Midrash of Hobbs & Shaw, an entirely uncalled for spin-off in which Jason Statham and The Rock join forces to pummel bad guys and save the world from bioterrorism, or whatever.
When Dad dies, we’re locked in our house for seven days, which in Hebrew is called Shiva. We’re not allowed to shave, listen to music, go outside or do anything apart from sit mutely in a self-imposed fog of grief and pick through the mounting pile of smoked salmon other people’s aunts keep leaving by the front door.
Shiva is hell for the extrovert. 48 hours in, all four of us are already well on the way to losing it. We’re simply not programmed to do nothing. Eventually Zac, who is studying undergraduate psychology, proposes we watch a stupid movie to get outside of own heads. This is how we embark a quasi-spiritual relationship with Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Ludacris. We are saved from insanity by a series of films that make no sense.
Our family is torn apart by suicide but bonded together by fast cars, hole-riddled plots and a criminally underrated hip-hop soundtrack. The rabbi who comes to counsel us on Day 3 remarks on how well we are all doing given the circumstances, and we don’t have the heart to tell him that while we haven’t left the house, our heads are in the illegal street racing worlds of Los Angeles and Tokyo.
Fast & Furious has all the elements needed to start a religion, including a cyclical collection of stories based around the ancient mores of betrayal, redemption and tank tops for both genders. There’s Moses in Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, shepherding his flock through one last job before they call it quits and settle in the promised land, which we all know never quite happens.
And then, tangentially connected (after all, they’re not really mates in the original Bible) is our blue-eyed, genetically blessed Christ. In July 2013, Dad is no longer alive, but Paul Walker still is. And isn’t he divine to watch; our generation’s Brando who never gets fat or has any memorable lines.
Fast & Furious is an ensemble deal, and if you read the history — which naturally, I have in some detail — it’s actually Diesel who needed to be coaxed into joining what would become the longest continuous car race of his life. But ultimately, Walker steals the show. He is American exceptionalism on a plate; white, blonde, preposterously ripped and somehow able to traverse black and Hispanic neighbourhoods without attracting any serious suspicion. Paul Walker says what he needs to say with his endless ocean eyes, which is good because most of what he actually says could barely be considered dialogue.
By the time we’ve kicked Shiva, the four of us have watched every Fast & Furious film currently on the market. We have spent hours looking up random facts about the franchise on Wikipedia, immersing ourselves in such miracles as the first film’s 200-million-dollar box office haul against a budget of 38 million and Dwayne Johnson’s career taking off, resulting in him becoming the most bankable star in Hollywood. David confirms another chapter of the Fast Saga is in production, in which the crew will apparently return to the United States. We all have holes in our black socks, beards and stiff knees from sitting on the floor, and we are briefly sad that this moment in time is over.
When Dad dies, I am technically the only one around. Both brothers are in Europe, as are my grandparents. My sister, still a teenager, is at school. It is incomprehensible, so I do not try and understand it. Instead, to deal with the situation appropriately, I become a grief robot. I book flights. I cancel credit cards. I organise funerals, wakes, obituaries. I call his friends. I buy a suit. I do not cry once, not because it is not expected of me, but because I don’t yet have it in me. I am hard, made of cool marble, impenetrably tough for the first time in my life.
Paul Walker dies that November, our celluloid Jesus leaving in the same fashion he arrived. That he goes out in an explosive car crash is almost too brutal to believe, and for months the cast of what is now known as ‘Furious 7’ debates what to do with their half-finished capstone to the holy scripture. It turns out they already know; as Dom always barks at his crew, the most important thing in life will always be family. The film is finished with Walker’s eerily lookalike brothers stepping in to complete his scenes.
‘Furious 7’ is the first Fast & Furious I ever see at the cinema. It’s almost two years after Dad dies when I settle into my overpriced plush red seat, ready to numb my brain after a long week of work. But the acute problem with knowing an actor in a film has passed, especially when it’s a franchise, is that you are hyperaware someone’s had to work overtime to creatively write him out. Characters don’t die just because their physical counterparts do. Fast & Furious has form with absurd plot arcs; the last film saw them drag racing in Abu Dhabi for reasons still mostly unexplained. Nonetheless, it’s hard to relax when you’re primed for something awful to happen.
The lights go down. Across the cinema, ripples of people prepare to hold their breath for an agonising 140 minutes.
In the end, it’s remarkably elegant; a simple metaphor executed cleanly in one long tracking shot. The song is pure fucking schmaltz, the kind that circles back around for one more obnoxiously soaring chorus when right you thought there couldn’t possibly be any more gas in the tank.
“It’s been a long day, without you my friend,” warbles Charlie Puth, as the camera pulls back reverentially on two cars, racing alone on an endless highway, “and I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.” They’re rocketing along, Dom and Brian, Moses and Jesus, black Dodge Charger against a gleaming white Toyota Supra. The significance doesn’t really click until the drums blast back in and out of nowhere, the road ahead suddenly splits in two.
Dom drives on. Brian drives away.
In the enforced darkness of the multiplex, the grief robot sparks, blows a fuse and finally falls apart. The scene goes on for what appears to be an eternity, Dom and Brian getting further apart until finally, mercilessly, he veers off-screen and out of our lives forever. I am a mess. It feels so good to cry that I can’t stop, even though I’m afraid I’ll embarrass myself in front of my friends and this packed-out cinema. I look around, matted eyelashes futile windscreen wipers for the torrent gushing from my eyes. Everyone is bawling. There is not a dry eye in any cinema screening this film on the entire planet. Fast 7 is a Furious Shiva, a generation in mourning for the end of innocence.
“It might be the best moment in cinematic history,” Vin Diesel says later of the scene. “Men around the world — everyone was able to cry — but men around the planet, for the first time in history, were able to cry together.”
He’s right. I miss Paul Walker. But really, I miss my Dad.
This is a story about how to keep the family together when your hero drives away.
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