The Swimmers: A Love Letter to Refugees and Opportunity 



Yusra and Sara Mardini received the Bambi Award in Berlin in 2016 for their heroic acts.

Directed by Sally El Hosaini, Netflix brings a new, true story to the homes of many with the release of The Swimmers. Following the Mardini sisters, the movie shows the world the true and inspiring events on their escape from Syria during the war in 2014 to Germany, where they would chase their dreams and safety.  

At 17 years old, Yusra Mardini had a dream to swim in the Olympics.  Her older sister, Sarah, was just as passionate about swimming, but her main goal throughout the movie was to protect Yusra.   

The movie begins with a shot of a pool, filled with children in Syria having a fun time, just lounging and relaxing. The first scene in the pool is then juxtaposed with references to water, screaming terrified children and screaming joyful children. 

As the movie continues, the juxtapositions between the water are most prominent. Throughout their journey, one of the most pivotal moments is when they jump out of the boat and swim for hours to avoid it from sinking on the way to Greece. It is truly inspiring that after their heroic swim to save the lives of those in the boat with them, the Mardini sisters didn’t give up swimming forever. 

Yusra’s strength helped her throw away her swimming medals, which were everything to her. All her accomplishments, the proof of her hard work, lost in the sea. Without hesitation, she dumped them away forever to give others the opportunity to find safety and a better life. 

After the ocean crossings, the refugees in the boat are met with piles and piles of life jackets stacked on the shore. Finally reaching Lesbos, the refugees toss their own life jackets into the pile and walk towards the city in hopes of aid. A visual representation of those who made a similar journey and survived, it was one of the most powerful scenes in the entire movie, showing pure resilience and survival.  

The Mardini sisters overcame every odd stacked against them. They were able to find joy in the water, especially Yusra. It was her holding onto her dream of competing in the Olympics that inspired her to not give up. 

Another theme in the movie is the desensitization of the Syrian people to violence and warfare. In a particular scene, the Syrian children are seen dealing with gunfire in their bus, however, they proceeded to head home as if it was totally normal. It is truly a painful example of what the Syrian people went through, and what other people go through in other countries. 

The scenes also jump back and forth between portraying joyful moments and portraying moments of terror and danger for the Mardini sisters. The opening of the Olympics had loud, colorful fireworks, which then changed to Yusra hearing the bombs and gunfire back home. During the competition itself, the moment she dove into the water, the scene changed from being in the Olympic pool to Yusra fighting for her life to swim in the Aegean Sea again. 

Those fleeing their home countries can understand the anxiety and constant fear of death that is consistently portrayed throughout the movie. And yet, it shows the strength of faith, and how even in the darkest moments of life, it can be one’s greatest protector.  

The Swimmers is a triumph, and it is an example of great strength and determination, as well as a portrayal of true hardship that so many go through, but others are oblivious to.