“Chariots” is an emotion packed classic
After 35 years, “Chariots of Fire” hasn’t lost its emotional impact. The movie was screened at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo on July 15.
A 1981 historical sports drama set mostly around the 1924 Olympics, the movie expertly stays true to the time period with detailed costume and set design, providing an immersive visual experience of life in the 1920s.
“Chariots of Fire” follows the true stories of two British runners — devout Christian Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Lithuanian Jew Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross). Both characters strive to overcome the challenges posed by their religious backgrounds in running.
The film is punctuated with other characters who help these two reach their goals, like Abrahams’ coach, Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm), and Lord Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers), who gave up his place in a race to allow Liddell to run.
Directed by Hugh Hudson, the movie won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Costume Design in 1982. It was nominated for three other Oscars as well.
Best Original Score is perhaps the award that the movie most deserved. Beginning with the now iconic “Chariots of Fire — Titles,” each soundtrack sets the tone beautifully for the scene it’s paired with, infusing the the story with emotion, suspense and drama.
A large part of the film is the many races that the two main characters participate in, from an informal race around a college courtyard, to the 400-meter run in the Olympics.
However, these scenes never become repetitive, even though they seem to depict the same thing over and over. The powerful music and expert camerawork make each scene evoke its own sense of significance and captivates viewers instantly. What would be boring in another movie became powerful in “Chariots of Fire.”
The raw emotion that comes from the actors’ performance adds to the captivation. With expressions that are rarely seen in modern movies, but are true to the in-the-moment feelings of Olympic runners, “Chariots of Fire,” gives an impactful sense of how the runners feel when they lose, when they win, and in the moments just before they finish a race.
However, the movie’s plot isn’t nearly as powerful as the emotional impact that the music, camera work, and acting provide. The storyline is typical of many sports movies, with characters who overcome some personal struggle in order to succeed in their athletic endeavors. The plot serves only as a vehicle for the other aspects of the filmmaking to elicit passionate responses from viewers.
Despite a less than stellar plot, “Chariots of Fire” will remain a classic for years to come — the movie’s unique approach to provoking impactful feelings has never been done better, and perhaps never will.