Weekend Warm-Up: The Dream is Both Dead and Alive in ‘LIMITS’

Daniel Winn sits at his modest kitchen table, waiting on word from his agent while playing chess against himself.

“It’s a very exciting time,” he says. “[My agent] might actually, at this very moment, be calling brands…seeing who’s kinda interested and who’s not so interested.”

A collegiate distance runner whose career was once described as “moderately exceptional” by a local publication, he is now chasing the dream of going pro. Or as narrator Jeff Merrill puts it, “pursuing the five-figure contract of his dreams.”

Winn reflects. “I don’t have a very good understanding of my value,” he says.

a man looks into the camera with a puzzled expression

Photo: Screenshot


Welcome to LIMITS — the story of a young track and field athlete resigned to the trenchant career limbo only fringe sports can promise.

Prepare for sardonic overload. Minutes into the film, I actually felt compelled to Google Winn to make sure he was real; the interviews are perfect.

If the producers could have seen me do it, they would have cackled with vindication. There are films about athletes where grit and determination are a brave protagonist’s only weapons against an uncaring world. This is not one of them.

Winn finishes a workout he complains and fawns his way through. Turns out it’s his lucky day: buy two, get one free on post-workout beverages at the corner store. And they’re hiring, “so if this running thing doesn’t work out for me,” Winn winks into the camera, “I know where to go.”

a runner in a bib

Photo: Screenshot


LIMITS is adept at using the macro narrative of the struggling young athlete as its main implement. But it really twists the knife with the subtleties.

The morning after a frustrating race, he gets his toaster down from a shabby shelf above his oven to make frozen waffles. He’s telling us how his friends keep insisting that his career woes are due to “bad timing.”

The camera frame just so happens to capture a magnetic knife holder with a single cheap steak knife on it. He laments that there are only two waffles left.

“I don’t know, it’s just tough,” he purses his lips.

a kitchen scene

Photo: Screenshot


As Winn spirals away from what he calls his “life goal,” many professionals among his cohort (interviewing as themselves) flourish. But most of them appear to have no clue why or how they’re doing it. Their obliviousness renders Winn’s situation even more pathetic.

winn smoking and drinking

Photo: Screenshot


“I definitely had no idea, career-wise, what I was going to do after school,” Sinclaire Johnson says, “so I’m kinda glad the pro running thing worked out because it’s buying me some time to figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.”

LIMITS holds delights far too profound to make spelling out the conceit worthwhile. Don’t miss when Winn compares himself to the brilliant but tragic writer Sylvia Plath.

a man smoking a cigarette

Photo: Screenshot


And if you’re offended by attacks on delusions of grandeur, don’t press play.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.