Chariots of Fire Throughout the world today, people are determined by a persistent feeling of weakness in many areas of life. Financial problems, misconduct, pollution, and other problems appear like they are out of control. In the workplace, employees often complain about being viewed as unimportant and unessential. In marriages, family units and even friendships, falling-out is a common circumstance. It is apparent that there are oppressive forces that manipulate us.
While some filmmakers offer the public entertainment as remedies to this dissatisfaction, others reinforce the sense that individual worth is being assaulted from several areas. Chariots of Fire is a film that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Two very different approaches to religion and sport are at the heart of this movie. The film is based on the true story of two British sprinters in the 1924 Paris Olympics; one Christian and one Jewish. Neither runner is out for personal or national glory. These two men are competing for the same reason; a matter of a higher calling but in very different ways.
For Harold Abrahams, a proud English Jew from a well-to-do family, running is a weapon against anti-Semitism; a way of validating his worth, and by extension his Jewishness, to his Anglo society and to himself. There is something to be said for this approach: After shattering a long-standing speed barrier at Cambridge’s Trinity College, the master says “Perhaps they’re the chosen people after all. ” In a way, he is right. As an athlete, Abrahams is driven by rebellious anger and shame endangered by the legacy of anti-Semitic prejudice that has gone hand in hand with the Jew’s divine determination.
For Eric Liddell, a devout Scot with missionary aspirations, running is something he can do to give glory to God, the same way the grass glorifies him by growing and the sun by shining. In one part of the movie, Liddell tries explaining the value of running to his sister, who doesn’t see the value of it at all by saying “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure. ” The difference between their motivations is highlighted in a number of ways.
Each runner’s commitment goes well beyond whatever obligation either feels to the expectations of their society. Where Abrahams’ commitment leads him to dispense himself from unwritten rules about amateur athletes not receiving professional coaching, Liddell brings his own additional unwritten rules to participation. For Abrahams, the chief crisis he faces is whether he can win after losing a race to Liddell and for Liddell; the crisis is whether he can even qualify when en route to the Olympics discovers the qualifying heat for his event is on the “Sabbath. While Abrahams must swallow his pride and find the courage to run in the Olympics, Liddell must swallow his hopes and find the courage not to run. Chariots of Fire is an aesthetically well realized work of art. The authentic drama deals directly with issues such as athletic competition, the nature of winning and losing and the central place of beliefs in sports. It touches sensitively and strongly on the longing for perfection, the search for meaning and the struggle for acceptance.
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