Chariots of Fire (1981)

Synopsis: Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082158/

Who chose it: Leah

Why I chose it: This is one of my all-time favorite movies and I’ve been bugging Brent to see it for years.


Leah’s Review:

My parents showed me “Chariots of Fire” when I was about nine. Afterwards, I remember taking some chalk outside and drawing a racetrack on our driveway so I could practice running. And while this didn’t last long- I remember how inspired this movie made me feel. Nearly 20 years later- this film remains a profound one for me.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched “Chariots of Fire” throughout my life- but I think I gleaned more from this last viewing from an adult perspective. As a child, my takeaway was always how Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams’ faith affected their motivation for running and because Liddell ran for God and Harold ran for himself, Liddell was the one who really won at the Olympics.

But it’s important to consider the social/historical context while watching this film. When we meet Liddell and Abrahams, World War I has just ended. Loyalty to one’s country has now become especially important- outranking any other loyalty including religion. The chance to do one’s country proud was of utmost importance- shedding light on both Liddell and Abrahams’ struggles. Harold feels the need to prove himself because of his Jewish ethnicity while Eric’s reason for running is glorifying God. Though both have a fierce loyalty to their country, Abrahams experiences anti-Semitism from the head of his college while Liddell is strongly judged for refusing to run a race on the Sabbath- both choose to be true to themselves in order to succeed.

I can’t talk about “Chariots of Fire” without mentioning its majestic score by Vangelis. His style is so unmistakable and the score sets the tone for the film. I’ve always loved the contrast between the very 1980’s/futuristic-sounding music paired with the backdrop of 1920’s England. Each piece of Vangelis’s score perfectly captures the emotions of what is taking place in each scene. One that has always particularly stood out to me is “Abrahams’ Theme”.

We first hear this theme when Harold Abrahams experiences his first-ever loss in a race. We see the look of defeat and despair on Harold’s face as he watches Liddell cross the finish line before him. After the race, we watch as Harold re-lives the loss over and over in his head. The way the shots of this scene are cut together combined with the powerful score displays some of the best editing I’ve ever seen.The music conveys all of the anguish that Harold feels in a way that makes us feel every bit of his heartbreak and failure. I’m always taken aback by how much emotion this piece makes me feel no matter how many times I’ve watched this scene.

There’s so much more I could say about this film, but it would go beyond my word-limit, so I digress. “Chariots of Fire” is a fantastic movie that features incredible performances and an inspiring story that otherwise might have been left untold. Add this to your watch list if you haven’t seen it already.

Brent’s Review:

“Chariots of Fire” is a film that revolves around a world that is not only foreign to me, but also frankly quite boring. That world, of course, is foot racing. The film itself tells the story about the competitive relationship between Harold Abrahams – a Jewish man at Cambridge whose arrogance about his racing talent makes waves with the faculty – and Eric Liddell – a Scottish missionary who delays his mission work to compete in the Olympic games.

I will admit that I found difficulty following the narrative in the first twenty or so minutes. The characters – many of whom are British, with a handful of Scots – speak very quickly and with heavy accents. Further that, the story moves in and out of a couple time periods and between countries in the first act in order to establish the two leads.

The film picks up as the two men begin to race. In particular, Liddell’s first open 400 race shows him being shoved down at the beginning and then miraculously catching up to win. Abrahams first taste of triumph is edging the courtyard dash, which a freshman hadn’t done in centuries. In my opinion, the film’s best moment is the first head-to-head meeting between Abrahams and Liddell – a tight contest in which Liddell edges Abrahams, sending him into a tailspin of disappointment and driving him to hire a personal trainer.

Would a film that is just about foot racing win Best Picture? Of course not. Racing becomes an outlet for different things. Liddell and Abrahams run for different reasons – Liddell to glorify God and Abrahams to escape his Jewish ethnicity. Both men face various obstacles in attempting to accomplishing these goals via their racing excellence – and bettering one another. The third act of the film does waver from these two themes just a bit as the two Europeans are tasked with overcoming the two famed runners from the United States, the film’s two villains if there ever were any.

On a technical level, the direction is serviceable (Hugh Hudson was nominated for Best Director, which seems a bit much to me). The film does win an Oscar for an unquestionably deserving category, which is Vangelis’ amazing original score, which is impeccable. And the Oscar win for Best Writing is probably deserved, especially given the film’s ability to tie together a biographical recounting of two men who hail from different nationalities, religious backgrounds, but still find commonality through their passion for foot racing.

So what can be said now that I’ve seen a film that Leah has wanted me to see for so long? Did I enjoy it? Sure. I’ve only seen one of the other five films it went up against in 1981 for Best Picture, the other being “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Should it have beaten “Raiders”? Probably not, no. “Chariots of Fire” stands the test of time. It’s a good movie. I didn’t think it was great, but I enjoyed it.


Up next: We’ve got another Kubrick film on the queue- this time, a satire. “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Atomic Bomb” stars Peter Sellers in not one- but three roles!

Peace out, kids.

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