Saturday, October 13, 2007

CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981): Notes for Mars Hill Video Club

Chariots of Fire is one of the great films of all time. It was a low-budget movie that was not expected to be a hit. However, the music was entrancing and the portraits of two obscure but top athletes caught people’s imaginations.

Historical References
Cambridge University – Cambridge University comprises many “colleges.” Harold Abrahams, and Aubrey are all fellows of Gonville and Caius College (pronounced “Keys”). The race, however, is held in the courtyard of Trinity College, the home of Lord Andrew Lindsay. The race is observed by the Master of Caius and the Master of Trinity (both played by famous actors Lindsay Anderson and Sir John Gielgud). They represent the British upper crust.

Edward Prince of Wales – The Prince of Wales is the successor to the throne of England. Edward later became King (Edward VIII) and then abdicated in 1938 so he could marry a divorced American. He was later known as the Duke of Windsor.

1924 Summer Olympics – the film is based on the real results of the Olympics in Paris, where Abrahams won a gold medal in the 100 metre and a silver in the 4x100 metre relays. The only inaccuracy is that Liddell know a month in advance that he would not be running in his favoured race and trained for the 400-metre instead, where he won gold.

Eric Liddell and the China Mission – Liddell’s parents and brother and sister served as missionaries in China. One year after the Olympics, he returned to China. He served during the Japanese war in an internment camp, where his health deteriorated. He died there in 1945.

Major Characters
Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) – a missionary son, born in China, who returned to study in Scotland who became a great runner and rugby player
Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) – son of Jewish merchant, wanting to distinguish himself in British society
Sam Massabini - (Ian Holm) – Abraham’s coach
Aubrey Montague (Nicholas Farrell) – Abraham’s friend at Cambridge University
Lord Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers) – aristocratic runner who gives up his spot for Liddell

Musical Themes from Chariot of Fire
The main musical theme for the film, which is played as the athletes run along the beach in St. Andrew’s Scotland, is by Vangelis, using a piano and synthesizer. This theme became a popular hit in its own right. In addition, the movie has snippets from two patriotic English pieces:

“For he himself has said it,
And it’s greatly to his credit,
That he is an Englishman,
Yes, he is an Englishman.

Pinafore by Gilbert & Sullivan

The anthem “Jerusalem” with words by William Blake
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Both these pieces represent Harold Abraham’s attempt to be fully accepted into British society. The last one, sung at his funeral, makes clear that he achieved that goal (he was admitted to the “Order of the British Empire”).

Famous Lines

Eric Liddell (preaching to a crowd): You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It's hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape - especially if you've got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe your dinner's burnt. Maybe you haven't got a job. So who am I to say, "Believe, have faith," in the face of life's realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, "Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me." If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.

Eric Liddell: I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.

The climax of the film comes when Eric Liddell refuses to run on the Sabbath. Here are several key exchanges from that climax.

Eric Liddell: God made countries, God makes kings, and the rules by which they govern. And those rules say that the Sabbath is His. And I for one intend to keep it that way.

***

HRH Edward, Prince of Wales: There are times when we are asked to make sacrifices in the name of that loyalty. And without them our allegiance is worthless. As I see it, for you, this is such a time.
Liddell: Sir, God knows I love my country. But I can't make that sacrifice.

***

Duke of Sutherland: A sticky moment, George.
Lord Birkenhead: Thank God for Lindsay. I thought the lad had us beaten.
Duke of Sutherland: He did have us beaten, and thank God he did.
Lord Birkenhead: I don't quite follow you.
Duke of Sutherland: The "lad", as you call him, is a true man of principles and a true athlete. His speed is a mere extension of his life, its force. We sought to sever his running from himself.
Lord Birkenhead: For his country's sake, yes.
Duke of Sutherland: No sake is worth that, least of all a guilty national pride.

Discussion Questions
1. Compare the personalities of Abrahams and Liddell. How did their personalities work to make them great runners, each in a different way.

2. Abrahams, Liddell and Sam Massabini are all “outsiders” to the English class system, while Lord Andrew and Aubrey are insiders. How do they get along?

3. Liddell is motivated both from “inside” his soul and from “outside” by the Law of God. Do you think someone can be free to obey like that? Compare Liddell’s motivation with that of James J. Braddock in Cinderella Man?

4. What do you think of the use of slow-motion photography in the big races? Why did they do it that way?

The Mars Hill Video Club is sponsored by the African Areopagus Society at Uganda Christian University. It includes staff and students who are interested in the intersection of video arts and Christian faith.

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