How long can you hold your breath?

Breathing is a reflex action. It’s automatic. We do it unconsciously, without thinking, about 19,000 times a day. It’s natural. 

When we breathe in, our lungs fill with oxygen. Our blood absorbs the oxygen, carries it throughout our bodies. The oxygen is fuel, the energy we need to break down food, maintain bodily functions, be physically active. 

Carbon dioxide is produced as a waste product, is carried back to our lungs, is expelled when we breathe out. And then we do it all again. 19,000-odd times a day. 

In. 

Out. 

In. 

Out. 

Shake it all about. 

So, how long can you hold your breath?

Try it now.

Time yourself. 

Take a couple of quick, deep breaths. 

Hyperventilate.

Flush the carbon dioxide from your system, flood your bloodstream with oxygen.

Now take one last, huge deep breath…and hold it!

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

And breathe!

How long did you manage? Half a minute? A minute? 

The average person can hold their breath anywhere from 90 seconds to two minutes. Sure, if you’re Tom Cruise, you can probably manage about five minutes. If you’re a Danish or German freediver you can probably manage about 20 minutes. But you and me? We’re lucky if we can make it to two minutes!

18 September 2012, the North Sea. During a routine maintenance dive to an underwater oil well, the 8,000 tonne support ship Topaz is caught in a storm and suffers a catastrophic failure of it’s navigation computer. 

Cast adrift in rough seas, the ship drags commercial saturation diver Chris Lemons along the seabed, the lifegiving umbilical hose tethering him to the ship, providing him with air and heat, becoming caught on an underwater structure, tearing, ripping, severing his connection to the surface.

Marooned alone on the seabed, Chris is left with just five minutes of breathable air. And his only hope of rescue is 30 minutes away…  

Mixing interviews with camcorder footage shot by Lemons, black box and CCTV recordings with meticulous reconstruction, directors Richard da Costa and Alex Parkinson Last Breath is simply breathtaking; a claustrophobic, pulse pounding, edge-of-the-seat documentary thriller that demands to be seen on the big screen.

The world of saturation diving is truly alien. 50-odd metres down, no light penetrates, reaches the seabed, the pressure is ten times that on the surface, the bone-chilling water is 4 degrees above freezing, the ‘air’ you breathe isn’t regular air but a mixture of gases that make you sound like a child buzzing helium from a balloon at a party, the ‘bends’ (decompression sickness) – the potentially fatal formation of nitrogen bubbles in the blood and tissues – a constant, lurking threat, as deadly as the water and the cold. 

Though da Costa and Parkinson never really get to the bottom of why anyone would choose to risk their lives to make their living this way in one of the most hostile environments on Earth, Last Breath immerses you in the divers’ world, offsetting the sensory recreation of Lemons’ plight (and keeping you guessing as to whether or not he survives for much of the film) with interviews with his schoolteacher fiancé Morag, the captain and crew of the Topaz who desperately tried to save him, his fellow divers, gruff father figure Duncan Allcock and the cool, detached David Yuasa (nicknamed the Vulcan for his eerie calmness), while even the simple matter of turning off and on again the ship’s computer could mean life or death.

A compelling testament to human endurance and everyday heroism, Last Breath may just be the best thriller you’ll see this year.

Movie Review: Last Breath
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