Director: Stefan Stuckert
Words – Rhiannon Topham
Beth French is one hell of a woman. Not only is she an accomplished athlete, but she’s an accomplished athlete living with the long-term neurological condition Myalgic Encephalomyeliti (ME, otherwise known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) who was wheelchair bound for a time during her teenage years. Not only is she a single mother, but she’s a single mother who balances her individual passion for swimming with part-time work and homeschooling her autistic eight-year-old son, Dylan.
Against the Tides follows Beth in her pursuit to tackle one of the world’s most extreme endurance challenges: Oceans Seven, a trial which crosses treacherous sea channels and straits and has hitherto only been completed by five people. It took these victors their whole lifetimes to finish the trial, but Beth wants to be the first person to do it within one year.
Each swim offers distinct dangers — warm water and swells in one place, heavy ship traffic and cold water in another. Sharks are an ever-present threat which Beth cannot face while menstruating, and in one particularly tense scene, a tiger shark circles Beth and her crew during the Hawaiin leg of the challenge.
However, a more pressing influence in this doc and Beth’s journey as a whole is her relationship with her son, who becomes more uneasy with every swim. The tension between maternal duty and personal desire eventually comes to a head, and Beth is faced with the predicament of chasing a dream she’s had for a long time, or giving her vulnerable child the care and attention he needs.
The outcome of the film isn’t perhaps what the filmmakers — or Beth, for that matter — initially imagined. The challenge gets off to a promising, albeit physically and emotionally demanding start, but then financial difficulties and rifts in her team amalgamate with Beth’s increasing concern for her son, and a yearning sense to be with him instead of the malicious marine life that await her in the open water.
Because of this, the film comes to somewhat of an abrupt end, though it does have a bittersweet note of familial potency. Family is, after all, the inspiration for so much of life’s big choices and challenges; just as they are the reason for personal compromises and dilemmas of responsibility.