Big River Man is the story of Martin Strel, a 50-something year-old Slovenian distance swimmer who is famous for swimming extremely long distances, like the length of the Mississippi and Yangtze rivers. This documentary centres around his latest adventure – swimming all 5,268 kilometres of the Amazon river. Martin’s journey is incredibly inspiring, emotional, insightful and hilarious all at the same time.
I was initially put off by the ‘environmental awareness’ aspect in the film’s description on Netflix, as these documentaries are often boring and leave me with a bad feeling. But I decided to watch it anyway since I love swimming and anything to do with swimming, and I came out of it with much more than I had expected. I liked the fact that the narration was done by Martin’s son in his thick Slovenian accent with an unprofessional recording. It added a very nice touch and homemade feel to the whole experience. There were also some very funny moments in this film that get you hooked from the beginning.
But at the point when Martin starts his swim in the Amazon, many interesting themes come up. The one that struck me the most (of many) was the way in which Martin, under no circumstances gives up being Martin. For example, when, among other things, doctors are telling him that he will die if he continues drinking Whiskey instead of water during his swims, he pays no attention and just keeps swimming. He could probably have gone twice the distance if he did things the way others wanted him to, but if he listened he could have swam the Pacific Ocean and it would be as though he went nowhere. I suppose this is the typical ‘be yourself’ cliché, but I feel it is dealt with in a very genuine way here. An they even take this pretty deep, too when Martin is on some crazy jungle stuff reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ (or the movie interpretation: Apocalypse Now). I guess this all goes to say how important it is that whatever he does he knows that everything was all him.
Although I was left with a bit of disappointment with a somewhat sloppy ending, I love that this movie can be many different things to many different people. I definitely recommend it as an entertaining comedy, inspiring journey, and insightful piece of art.