Chariots of Fire (1981) (PG)
It could be a sore subject to bring up "Chariots of Fire" when talking about Academy Award history...which is essentially all that I do. Yes, the film managed to beat out both "Reds" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to nab the coveted Best Picture title; but since then it has vanished from time. The most lasting item found in the movie is its music, which is constantly parodied—look no further than Rowan Atkinson's schtick at the London Olympics.
Yet what is the film really about? Well, running for sure...yeah, running on a beach. Not really.
I don't think that any other Best Picture winner, besides "A Man for All Seasons" has become so obscure, and oddly enough both movies are based in faith.
Athletics aside, "Chariots of Fire" is about a man and his belief. It's about being so rigorous in your religion that you are willing to sacrifice your personal glory. It's also about defying stereotypes and conquering yourself.
The story of two runners, "Chariots of Fire" is immaturely narrated by a young man named Aubrey Montague (Nicholas Farrell) who really has nothing to do with the movie. He's there to bridge the awkward narrative gaps between the two men the movie is really about. One is Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and the other is Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson).
Abrahams is the real protagonist of the movie, enjoying much more screen time and character development than Liddell, though the film does make significant balances between the two men. Coming to a prestigious Anglo-Saxon school in England, Abrahams is constantly reminded of his heritage. The men scoff at his name and many off-hand remarks are made about him, 'the Semite'. True, much of Abrahams' story is about him being Jewish; but it does transcend that. Then it becomes about him versus himself.
Liddell is the son of a missionary. A boy from Scotland, he has an incredible talent for running that many of his friends exploit for their own personal entertainment. When the chance arrises from Liddell to perhaps participate in event that could lead him to the Olympics, he has a conundrum. While his sister, the prude, is adamant about him not going to run—she sees the actions as belittling the mission field, and to an extent, God himself—Eric's father doesn't see anything terrible about racing for God and country.
Abrahams, meanwhile, is exercising his right to exercise. He demonstrates his talent by sprinting around a school courtyard, and generally showing off. Not knowing what loss is, Abrahams has a rather inflated ego. He too is hoping to land a place at the Olympics.
So, in a way, "Chariots of Fire" is a film about two men racing towards their goals—for self, for God, for country, for others, for the moment.
I ran cross-country in highschool. I know the nerves that can be consuming. I don't care to think about how horrible my nerves would be at an Olympic level. Just multiply everything by a thousand. What the film does, in a very cerebral fashion that contrasts the high-stiff-upper-lip drama that permeates the rest of the film, is show how a race feels. There is near silence before the gunshot. Once the gun is fired, the world disappears. Each runner withdraws into his own world. The short sprint is over in ten seconds; but the mind can't grasp this yet. It takes a few more seconds, while the world fades back in, to fully drink of the victories and the losses.
"Chariots of Fire" excels in the racing scenes because it gives them their full due of being patriotic, warrior-like acts of sheer skill and athleticism.
Still the film romanticizes too much...and the Oscar winning score doesn't help this. There is odd sentimentality in a locker room before a race where it should not be. There is no rush of emotion as characters stand up for what they believe, this is where the music should have been.
Still, turning a rather dull drama into a really interesting piece, Hugh Hudson achieved the high mark of his career here.
Liddell's religious passion, Abraham's passion for winning, and the idea of self-worth—"Chariots of Fire" is a nice movie, one that demands little and gives out much.
Posted by Micah Jones