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Chariots of Fire - Click to view! CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)
Starring Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nigel Havers.
Directed by Hugh Hudson.
MPAA rating: PG

Chariots Of Fire, a 1981 film that won four Academy Awards in that year, is an interesting experience. Riveting it isn’t, and it is neither ground-breaking (though films about running are scarce…What, by the way, do chariots have to with anything?) nor particularly well manufactured, but it is a very worthwhile feature to take in. Especially for Christians. And perhaps even more especially for those who, like me this weekend, spend Friday night at home with their parents.

The story centers around a group of British runners, most of University age, who attain excellence at the college level, and then go on to compete at the Olympics. The two main characters, as different as they are in temperament as they are in background (not to mention religious conviction) also take very different routes in their quests for glory. The first, Harold Abrahams, is the son of a Jewish immigrant who is convinced the world is out to get him, and who is also certain that he has been dealt a shoddy deal my his Maker (that is, if he believes in Him at all. That never becomes apparent). He is arrogant, ruthlessly competitive, and loves to be the centre of attention. While attending a leading British university, he adopts several friends, many of them runners. He goes through most of his days un matched and largely unchallenged (to one character, who asks if he hates to lose, Abrahams answers, “I don’t know. It’s never happened to me) that is, of course, until he meets Eric Liddell, a devoutly Christian sprinter who runs almost purely on talent, with little abandon for honing his skill through conventional means (though the desire and discipline is there) and who runs for the glory of God.

To Abrahams, running is justification for his existence. Winning—at all costs—is the only reason he is alive, and he thrives off of it. He even hires a professional trainer with the intention of becoming the fastest man (in the 100 yard dash) that has ever lived. Naturally, he is nearly broken when defeat befalls him, and he is sustained only by his friends and the love of a very special woman.

Liddell’s reasons for running are different, and so are the things that sustain him. He says, “God [has made me a gifted man] but He has also made me fast. When I run, I feel His pleasure.” He sees running as his duty; to live out and achieve all that God has given him to achieve. And he has no allegiance except to God and to those he loves.

Liddell is a quiet man, but a strong speaker, and is well respected by his peers. plans to join the mission field once he graduates, and following the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France. Abrahams seems to have no aim in life except to win a gold medal in the Olympics.

Along the way, both athletes do things that displease those around them, and even question their own motivation for running at all. Abrahams adopts what his university sees as a “professional” attitude—win at all costs. His girlfriend, sees no method in his madness, and charges him to “grow up” when he loses a preliminary race to Liddell. Liddell is forced to give up many things he holds dear, including church activity, while training for the Olympics. Some of the people he loves, including a romantic interest, are rubbed the wrong way, but he rationalizes his efforts to the latter by saying he feels the pleasure of God when he runs.

Though these are minor hardships, the greatest is yet to come. Abrahams loses pitifully in one running event once in Paris, and is grief stricken. Liddell learns that the heats for the 100-yard dash, an event in which he is slated to compete, is being held on the Sabbath. He decides that he simply cannot run a Sunday, and stalwartly refuses to do so, even in the face of England’s prince and sporting officials. “In my day, [one would serve] king first, and God after,” says one royal official, to which Liddell replies, “God makes kings, and God makes the laws that they uphold…” Liddell makes a remark to the effect that he will not break those rules, and the matter is settled. A team mate allows him to race in another race by stepping down, and the story ends happily.

This is a movie that one cannot help but recommend for families and people of all ages. There isn’t a single profanity or misuse of God’s name, and the example set by the characters is admirable. Through Abrahams we learn that winning isn’t everything, but that hard work almost certainly pays off. Little’s integrity is something we all should strive for—he stays true to his values in the face of what might be, to a normal man, crushing opposition. There is no violence or misguided spirituality. This is a movie definitely worth seeing.
- Ben Forrest
April 2002
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