On the surface, Break the Mold is seemingly about Zach Bates’ endeavor to run a marathon. Looking closer, you’ll find that Travis Holt Hamilton’s documentary is about something deeper. At a young age, Zach was diagnosed with autism. With a supportive family by his side, Zach finished school while discovering his passion for running. As his 20th birthday approaches, he sets his sights on completing a 100-mile race. As someone who struggles to run more than two miles on the treadmill, I might not be able to identify with Zach’s intimidating run. As someone who’s also on the spectrum, though, I can identify with Zach’s journey.
Although autism is a part of Zach’s life, it isn’t what defines him. Break the Mold sincerely captures Zach’s spirit, even though he’s not the most talkative person. Much of the commentary is provided by his parents, siblings, and fellow runners. When Zach got diagnosed, his father wondered if they’d ever be able to share a game of catch. Zach defied expectations, becoming a more than capable athlete. Of course, 100 miles is a tall order for anyone to fulfill, especially considering that Zach’s personal best up to this point was 15 miles.
Maybe Zach has something to prove to the world. Maybe he has something to prove to himself. Or maybe he just loves running and wants to meet his dream goal. Whatever his motivation is, we never doubt Zach’s determination as he runs across the red and orange mountain ranges of Arizona. The sunny backdrop eventually turns to night with the race lasting well into the next morning. Every once in a while, Zach meets his family at a pitstop for a brief rest. There’s a sigh of relief whenever Zach arrives at a pitstop. At the same time, his family can see the race taking its physical toll. They probably wouldn’t object if Zach wanted to stop, but they know that’s not going to happen.
At just barely an hour, Break the Mold could’ve benefited from being about twenty minutes longer. A fair deal of the second half is spent at pitstops, only occasionally showing glimpses of Zach’s run. Obviously, the filmmakers couldn’t jog alongside Zach while lugging around their equipment. Asking Zach to wear a body camera and record a vlog wouldn’t have been very practical either. It nonetheless feels like there’s a part of the experience missing from the film. On the whole, though, Break the Mold gets to the center of Zach’s emotional journey.
It doesn’t matter whether or not Zach comes in first. Reaching the 100-mile goal is the ultimate reward. As Break the Mold approaches its finish line, Zach’s sore legs and feet are almost an afterthought. They’re eclipsed by his sense of achievement. While Zach has gone the distance, it’s clear that this isn’t the end of his story. There will always be more marathons to endure and other challenges to overcome. You just have to keep running, which is a message that we can all take to heart.
Break the Mold plays at Regal Gilbert from August 31 through September 7.