Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chariots of Fire

This month, we are screening the 1981 film Chariots of Fires at Friday Night Flicks. It had occurred to me that I have never written an official review of this film. I consider Chariots of Fire to be one of the best films from the 1980s. It certainly is the best example of how a faith message can be incorporated into a mainstream film. In fact, if you want to see a portrayal of a Christian who reflects the nature and character of Christ, you will find no better example than the character of Eric Liddell.

From the opening scene, Chariots of Fire invokes deep emotions that have captivated audiences for over 30 years. It certainly captivated me as I watched the British national track and field team training for the upcoming 1924 Olympics to be held in Paris, France. The scene evokes the sense of optimism, hope and victory as each team member is running on the beach in unison.

They are all running for different reasons—God, country, King, national pride. The question is “in what order”. The heart of the story is about two very different people. Harold Abrams (Ben Cross) is an English Jew who is looking to overcome prejudice and find acceptance in the English hierarchy. He enrolls in Cambridge University and sees running as a way to achieve his goals. Eric Liddell, a Scotsman, (Ian Charleson) is the son of missionaries to China. He is a man of conviction and states “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” Liddell believes running will give him the opportunity to bring glory to God and an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. Both men are on a collision course as they train and prepare for the Olympics. It’s clear that their motives, reasons and methods are radically different. But their destinies are linked.

Chariots of Fire is based on a true story. The part of the story that shocked the world was Eric Liddell’s refusal to run in the 100 meter heat because the event fell on the Sabbath. He faced enormous pressure from his country, including the Prince of Wales and future King of England. His refusal set off a firestorm of criticism. Is God first or is your country first? Is national pride more important than your integrity and beliefs.

The questions that Chariots of Fire pose are just as relevant and timeless today. What defines Eric Liddell is an important question. He is not being self-centered nor is he arrogant in his faith. I believe the movie does an excellent job depicting the character as a man who is defined by his faith. If you separate his beliefs and integrity from who he is, he would not have the strength or the will to win the race.

Harold Abrams, the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, is also fighting his own battles. He faces enormous odds in discovering his identity and purpose. Abrams is trying to run his race. But what is the source of his power. Liddell asks the question, where does the power come from to see the race to the end. It is the central question of Chariots of Fire. Two very different men. Two very different belief systems. Each will have to find the source of that power in order to fulfill their destinies.

I find it hard to believe that a movie that depicts such powerful and compelling Judeo Christian beliefs could ever have been produced, yet alone win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Chariots of Fire was a surprise winner at the 1981 Academy Awards beating out films such as Reds, On Golden Pond and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Over the years, the film has received a fair amount of criticism for being the worst film receiving the Academy Award for Best Picture. But this small, low-budget British film is worthy of all of it’s critical acclaim. I just don’t see the critic’s beef. You have to wonder if they just don’t like the movie’s central theme and message.

Bottom line. if you haven’t seen this film or if you’ve seen it multiple times, Chariots of Fire will inspire you and provide a perspective and insight on how you can see your race to the end.

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