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“Senior Sendoff” 2024
CSD Productions, CSD Productions • May 30, 2024

Bigger than the boat

“The Boys in the Boat” movie delivers a powerful, emotional story of teamwork and success
Callie Hobbs
With a storyline that has so much more to offer than just the rowing, the movie which is based on author Daniel James Brown’s New York Times bestselling book with the same title, tells the inspiring true story of the University of Washington’s junior varsity crew (rowing team) finding success at the 1936 Olympic Games – against all odds.

Note: Spoiler Alert – This piece explains both the plot and the outcome of the movie.

‘The Boys in the Boat’ movie has become a blockbuster since its release on December 25th, 2023. With a storyline that has so much more to offer than just the rowing, the movie which is based on author Daniel James Brown’s New York Times bestselling book with the same title, tells the inspiring true story of the University of Washington’s junior varsity crew (rowing team) finding success at the 1936 Olympic Games – against all odds.

The movie does a great job of making a very historical timeline captivating and interesting. It is set during the Great Depression in the United States and includes visual sets of the country during the period. The sets of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin also create a more historical controversy with Hitler being in power and World War II looming in the following years.  

There is even a scene in the movie where the team talks to Jesse Owens as the Olympic Opening Ceremony begins. Including these historical details makes the movie more interesting.   

“The Boys in the Boat” is a completely true story and all the characters were named after real people, but it was so personable and relatable that it could be mistaken for historical fiction. 

The movie also does a great job of making a not-so-well known sport easy to understand.  Even if the audience goes into the movie with no background knowledge on the sport of crew, the vocabulary and technical details about the sport are quickly learned through explanations.

To give some context, Joe Rantz is a student at the University of Washington.  His mother died when he was young, and his father abandoned him at 14 years old. On top of all that, the Great Depression left Joe financially struggling to stay in school. He searches for jobs and finds that if he can make the University’s JV 8-man crew, then housing and a job are both promised with it. He pursues this opportunity but then gets more than he was expecting by becoming 1/8th of the amazing story that follows.

When the team’s head coach, Coach Ulbrickson, makes the controversial decision to send the impressive JV boat instead of the varsity boat to the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Joe goes from homeless to hero.

The characters and their relationships to each other just about cover all the bases. Joe Rantz is very hardworking and resilient. It is amazing to watch his character arc of only joining the team in the first place for financial reasons to then realizing that being part of the team might be one of the most meaningful things in his life. After he is distracted by the return of his father, Joe struggles in practice right before the Olympics and is so frustrated that he threatens to quit. Joe makes this realization and asks Coach Ulbrickson for his seat in the boat back.  

“The boys… that boat…” Joe Rantz said. “It’s all I got.”

Don Hume is one of Joe’s teammates who sits in the first seat of the boat right in front of Joe. Since they are in the first and second seats, Joe and Don serve as the team’s bow pair (responsible for setting and balancing the boat).  The two work together and grow closer in friendship throughout the story.  

Don is so quiet and shy that he could almost come across as anti-social, but people come to love him as he proves himself to be a hard-working, dedicated, valuable team member who surprises everyone with his hidden talents like being able to beautifully play the piano which brings some liveliness to the team’s chores.  

Bobby Moch serves as the team’s coxswain (leader who sits at the very front of the boat and steers/coordinates the power and rhythm of the rowers).  Bobby’s character arc throughout the story is an incredible one. He goes from being rude to the team and pointing out how terrible they’re doing to then discovering the best way to motivate them.  He then becomes not only caring of the boys in the boat, but also learns to embrace his leadership role as the coxswain and strategically leads the team to victory.  

Joe, Don and Bobby all become very close throughout the movie, with Bobby starting to care a lot more about Don after Don falls frighteningly ill on the night of the Olympic opening ceremony. This trio’s relationship shows in a touching scene just moments before the olympic race when Bobby checks on Don asking if he’s okay and then Joe encourages Don.  

When Don seems to lose strength and focus during the race, it is Bobby who encourages him and helps him get the boat back on track which ultimately leads to the team’s victory.

Joyce Simdars is another student at University of Washington who remembers Joe from the huge crush he had on her when they were in fourth grade together – one that still exists during their college years. Joyce is the outspoken and opinionated one in their relationship while Joe is more shy and was nervous at first every time she talked to him.  This unique dynamic makes their interactions playful and fun to watch, and the two fall deeper in love throughout the story.  

George Peacock is the team’s builder of the racing boats (called “shells”). He is a wise and observant man who often listens and gives input to coaching conversations. As Joe starts to spend more time with him to help him as a shell building assistant, Peacock becomes a mentor figure and even helps Joe gain enough perspective to realize that he needs to persevere through struggle instead of just giving up and quitting the team.

Coach Ulbrickson is also an inspiring character as it is evident how much cares about and faithfully believes in his team. Coming off a previous season that was extremely unsuccessful, Coach Ulbrickson had so much faith in Joe’s boat that he decided to send the University’s JV boat instead of varsity to the olympic qualifier.  

On top of that, he defies the odds by helping his team win not only the Olympic qualifier but also the actual Olympic race, too. He also cares about his team members as people which shows when he skips the opening ceremony to stay with the ill-fallen Don, and when he admits to his team that he’s proud of them right before a race even though saying something like that is unlike his personality.

There are many relatable underlying themes in this movie as well.  

It’s a true underdog story, and it’s very inspiring in many ways. 

Themes about teamwork and perseverance are obvious but another very touching theme is apparent- the boys in the boat are only human. It is showcased in specific situations like Don getting sick at the Olympics, and Joe being distracted, struggling and getting so frustrated that he wanted to quit. In a bigger example, the whole team struggles in a practice before the Olympics and Coach Ulbrickson worries that he made the wrong decision sending the JV boat to the Olympics instead of the varsity.  

In a conversation about this worry with his wife, she points out to him that maybe the team is just nervous because they are kids after all. He then says he can’t afford for them to be just nervous kids. This shows how much pressure is put on the team and how they are expected to always perform and deliver despite normal human emotions and tendencies.

The Boys in the Boat is a movie that has so much more to it than just rowing.  It is a meaningful, inspiring true story, and it showcases touching moments that stay with viewers long after the closing credits end. It teaches viewers about the history and love of the sport of rowing and it leaves audiences motivated to never give up on hopes and dreams. 

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About the Contributor
Callie Hobbs
Callie Hobbs, Sports Editor. Opinions Editor

Callie Hobbs is a junior at CSD who has been at the school since 4th grade. She joined the journalism team this year for the first time because she loves to write and is creatively inspired by the world around her.

Callie is the junior team captain of CSD’s varsity cross-country team and loves to run on trails and sidewalks/greenways. To Callie, running is an outlet to think things through. Outside of school, Callie enjoys simply relaxing, finding inspiration and dreaming up ideas for creative projects and spending time with family.

“The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”  -John Bingham

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  • K

    Kermit HobbsJan 23, 2024 at 6:53 am

    Brilliant and insightful review. I can’t wait to see it!