‘Nyad’ Ending Explained & Movie Summary: How Did Diana Complete The Swim?

Try, try, and try again till you succeed. We have heard this line ever since we were little kids but have never really given it a good try, have we? Well, not like Diana Nyad, on whose life the director duo of Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi have managed to make a great film titled Nyad. This seemingly feel-good dramedy is more than just a biopic. Diana Nyad, an inspiration to many distance swimmers in the world, rose to fame when she broke records one after another, but at age 28, she failed to accomplish the greatest challenge of her life—the swim from Cuba to Florida. Nyad is a story where the 60-something Diana (played by Annette Benning) returns to complete the near-impossible swim with the help of her longtime friend and coach Bonnie, played by Jodie Foster. Going deep into the psychology of achieving greatness, superiority complexes, and destiny, Nyad is easily among the best films of the year.


Spoilers Ahead

Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?

Nyad literally means the ‘water nymph,’so it was Diana’s destiny in a way to be the first, and perhaps the only person ever, to swim from Cuba to Florida. Or so she told everyone. Diana Nyad, passing her time, avoiding all things ‘beneath her’ and only concentrating on being the best, remembered the time it all went wrong for her. The swim she had attempted at the age of 28 had to be a success; after all, she was a ‘Nyad,’ but it wasn’t. Now she was 60, and even though she was in relatively great shape, she was waiting for death in a sense. Living with her friend Bonnie and beating her in scrabbles, now there was nothing she looked forward to. What greater purpose was she living for now? Was the moment of ultimate glory behind her? Nope, Diana didn’t think that after obsessing over a Mary Oliver poem, The Summer Day. Suddenly, the zest was back, and Diana, as if seized by the spirit of the water nymph herself, decided to attempt to complete the swim that had once proven too dangerous and grueling than she had imagined.


How Did Diana Convince Bonnie To Be Her Coach?

If Diana had to complete the mammoth task of completing the swim, which entailed putting in about two hundred and fifty thousand strokes, essentially crossing over a hundred miles of ocean, she needed to train. Who better than Bonnie to coach her and be her pillar of strength? Diana didn’t have anyone else by her side. She was single, and Bonnie clearly loved her, even though the relationship seemed more platonic. Given the history between the two, Diana thought it would be a piece of cake to convince Bonnie to find a great crew and travel over to Cuba, basically putting her life at a halt. When Diana proposed this idea, the reaction from Bonnie seemed demoralizing, as she perceived Diana to have gone a little cuckoo in the head, attempting to complete a swim that even the young swimmers failed to conquer. The idea was almost suicidal, and Bonnie saw it. Well, Diana said she now had the secret—the power of the mind—something she didn’t have when she was 28, and asked Bonnie to come see her test swim in Mexico. The results were disastrous. She lasted only 4 hours in the cold ocean when she had planned for sixty. Furious, Diana attempted it another time, this time doubling her time to eight hours. Bonnie, noticing her spirit, agreed to be her coach, essentially agreeing to witness Diana going through a cycle of self-loathing, demotivation, a moment of clarity, and overconfidence.

Is Diana A Narcissist?

It’s a complex question, but Diana, at the outset of things, gave the impression of being a narcissist. But as the story progressed, there was some context to her behavior and a possible explanation as to why she needed to behold the glory so badly. Firstly, if we look at her relationship with Bonnie, it’s clear that Diana used Bonnie any time she could, for her own benefit, and that too without a sense of gratitude. But Bonnie loved Diana’s core, and she knew everything about her and her past. When Diana was 14, she had been molested by her coach, who passed away while Diana was preparing for her marathon swim. The news broke her as it reminded her of the innocence that she lost at that age. The coach pushed her, and the positive reinforcement really helped Diana become a great swimmer, but when the same man molested her, her sense of the world got warped. What was positive reinforcement contained this rotten embryo of everything vile and disgusting in the world. There was also a hint that Diana blamed herself for the molestation, as she had written a note in her notebook that proclaimed her love for the coach. She still thought that he had read the note, which is why he did what he did. That, of course, was immaterial in this case.


Apart from the swimming front, Diana’s father had abandoned the family when she was just beginning to learn to swim, which left a scar on Diana’s psyche. Her preoccupation with destiny began when her adoptive father drilled into her head that she was a Nyad and that conquering the ocean was her fate. Bearing all these scars on her soul, swimming had become an escape for Diana, and she wanted to fulfill her destiny through this escape, which made her self-absorbed. Bonnie knew this, which is why when one of the crew members, John Bartlett, questioned Bonnie’s unwavering support for Diana, even when she didn’t reciprocate it, Bonnie didn’t flinch. Diana was blessed with the talent, and life just had cruel ways to smother her with it, and the more she followed the path, the more self-obsessed she seemed. If looked closely, she was obsessed with the aim and a search for meaning, not with herself. In fact, she was incredibly hard on herself, but sometimes the ‘aim-obsession’ tested everybody’s love and patience, especially Bonnie’s.

How Did Diana Complete The Swim?

Diana’s self-centered search for glory and its consequent meaning, had brought her so close to breaking the record which seemed humanly impossible. The crew Bonnie and Diana had assembled had all sorts of gadgets and techniques to keep Diana out of danger, but this was Mother Nature she was up against. She failed two times, and the distance swim really seemed impossible. First, there were sharks, then the water currents, but ultimately Diana’s swim was halted by jellyfish. Diana couldn’t take up any other dream to bring meaning back into her life. Bonnie tried to talk her into crossing another milestone, but Diana’s stubborn grit meant that she would try to swim from Cuba to Florida, even if it meant death. Even Bonnie left her side after her second attempt. But how could she not return? If Diana were to die, Bonnie wanted to be there for her and be the last person she saw. That would be enough meaning for Bonnie’s life.


In her fifth attempt, which began on August 31, 2013, the then-64-year-old Diana overcame all obstacles and conquered all her fears to reach the Florida Keys on September 2. Almost on the verge of collapse, her final few steps out of the ocean and onto the beach were guided by Bonnie herself. The crew asked the crowd not to touch her before she was out of the water, as that would disqualify her. Diana had come close to disqualification earlier, when Bonnie had jumped in the water herself to get that last bit of swim in her, which made all the difference. In the end, it can be said that Diana was over her ‘aim’ in the sense that it was somehow related to her self-esteem or the meaning of her life. The lust for life had returned in a real sense this time, and Diana was free to go in any direction she wanted, which was in no way related to swimming. But her greatest achievement was that she started to recognize other people’s efforts in making her dream come true. She recognized Bonnie’s love for her, and the sacrifices people had made for her, which is why the things she said right after her win were that she couldn’t have done it alone, and her team had as much role in her glory as herself.

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Ayush Awasthi
Ayush Awasthi
Ayush is a perpetual dreamer, constantly dreaming of perfect cinematic shots and hoping he can create one of his own someday.

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