SCREENnA Duologue on Pictorial Essayism & Other ImpressionsnChariots of Fire; Screenplay by ColinnWelland; Directed by Hugh Hudson;nALadd Company & Warner BrothersnRelease.nsnChariots of Fire would seem doomednto failure; it contains none of the essentialsnthat earmark a film for successn—no sex, no violence, no cynicism, nonslick commercialism, no faddish leftism.nMost shocking of all, the hero is anBible-quoting Presbyterian Scot. In annage accustomed to the antihero and thenhero as buffoon (after the manner ofnBurt Reynolds) Eric Liddell, the devoutlynreligious Scotsman who won the 400meternevent in the 1924 OlympicnGames, is an unlikely protagonist.nAt the outset of the film one hearsnthe grinding of ideological axes in thenoffing, for the story opens with the arrivalnat Cambridge University of HaroldnAbrahams, a young Jew who has comenup to Caius College. Abrahams is anrunner who pursues the sport to provenhimself better than the non-Jews andnto force the anti-Semites to acknowledgenhis superiority. With this beginning,none expects.yet another lugubrious talenof oppression, with fair-haired CambridgenWasps cast as the villains.nBut Abrahams, intent as he is uponnferreting out even the most veiled ofnslights, actually encounters little overtnanti-Semitism. He wins immediate acclaimnby surpassing the centuries-oldnmark for the College Dash. He successfullyncarries off a leading role in thenCollege’s production of Pinafore andnreadily finds acceptance among his Gentilenclassmates. Yet Abrahams remainsnobsessed with the need to win at allncosts, for he cannot bear the stigma ofndefeat. In violation of the Cantabrigianntradition of amateurism, he hires a professionalntrainer to prepare him for thenOlympics. His victory in the 100-yardndash in Paris seems predestined; hisnfanatical dedication and adamantinendetermination leave no room for set­nbacks or surprises. He wins the race, ofncourse, but his victory is anticlimactic;nit leaves him sullen and morose. Therenis a certain gracelessness in HaroldnAbrahams’s pursuit of the gold medal.nEric Liddell agonizes over his athleticnprowess. He tries to combine his runningnwith lay preaching, but his sister’snadmonition that he is sacrificing Godnto his own ambition troubles him. Henforges a bargain wit;h his God: he willnprepare assiduously for the Olympicsnand after the games he will forsake runningnfor the life of a missionary in China.nBut God reneges, for just as Liddellnboards the ship for France he learnsnthat the first; heat for the 100-yard dashn—his event as well as that of Abrahamsn—will be run on a Sunday. God’s will isnclear: Liddell will not run on the Sabbath.nEven appeals to his patriotism bynthe Prince of Wales and members of thenBritish Olympic Committee will notnbudge him. But when another runnernrelinquishes to Liddell his own spotnin the 400-meter event, Liddell runs andnwins. As he approaches the finish lirie,nwords of exaltation ‘run through hisnmind: “God made me to serve Him, butnHe also made me fast. I run for hisnpleasure.”nThe chic set in the centers of culturalnnnfashion must find this hard to swallow,nfor it flies in the face of all the su{>posedlynenlightened wisdom of our day.nA Presbyterian Scot who runs for thenglory of God.^ Surely this will not do.nYet it will do, for in Eric Liddell Chariotsnof Fire presents an inspiring—butnnot sentimental—hero.n—Adrian SperacinonThe art of drama was, and is, anstudy in change—characters, circumstances,nevents interact, influence eachnother and shape themselves into a story.nIn Chariots of Fire nothing changesnfrom beginning to end, although a lotnhappens. But nothing can change innand around its protagonists becausenthey already are their own ideas of hownthey themselves should be as humansnand persons. Thus, the drama is locatednnot in the flow of facts but in the staticnresolution to uphold a principle. Thenrest of the movie is a statement—visualncinematic—on those ideas and theirnmoral value. Such a loose structuralnform, not to mention the preponderancenof the philosophical comment inherentnin it, makes the movie a pictorial essaynof unusual beauty and richness.nIt is an account of a portion of thenlives of two men, and it is so delicatelyndelineated that it scarcely mattersnwhether it is biography or fiction. Innfact it is neither. It is a divagation onnachievements as they are related to intensenyearnings which, in turn, arenrooted in the complexities of thoughtnand emotion. Nor is a plot of any importancenin this movie: it relies on dialectics,nreasoning, mood, evocation ofnthe period and graphic impressions. Itntells the story of two British sprintersnwho won gold medals at the 1924nOlympic Games in Paris—a true storynabout authentic persons, each of whomnsaw track-and-field competition in anunique and idiosyncratic way. Litera-niii^41nJanuary/February 1982n