This is the greatest theme song/score of any movie ever. And it is also my favorite movie. I do not say this lightly. There are many, many movies that I love, but none has impacted me more than Chariots of Fire.
If you haven’t seen Chariots of Fire, don’t stop reading. It won’t be ruined. I’ve written this to encourage you to watch it and to enjoy it fully.
When I bring up this movie in conversation, people generally react in one of two ways. They either have never seen it, or they thought it was incredibly boring. In fact, recently I brought up the movie during a weekly game of Friday morning basketball that I play with some friends, and these two sentiments were the exact reactions. One Friday-morning-basketball friend, who is a generation older than me (seemingly the exact age of someone who should love this movie), laughed and joked that maybe his parents had seen it. His statement’s intention was clear, it is a boring movie.
I will concede this point. Chariots of Fire is slow, dramatic, plodding, and has a healthy dose of 80’s emotional cheese dashed generously throughout. I can see why and how this movie would be viewed once and forgotten (other than that incredible, overly synthesized score).
The vast majority of movies made are primarily meant to be entertainment with an emphasis in amusement (amuse – lack of thought). Chariots of Fire is not one of these films. It is not an amusing piece of art. It is profound. It is beautiful. And it demands that you think with it.
If you approach Chariots of Fire with a desire to be entertained, you will be disappointed and bored. Rather, it must be felt with and thought through.
What in the world does “felt with” mean (it wasn’t a typo)? Art is meant to be felt. Art draws emotions to the surface. Chariots of Fire is story-art that should be felt. It should draw the deep-rooted emotions of your soul to the surface of your awareness and, if you are willing, it will help you access that which would have been inaccessible without it (it being the piece of art engaged). This is what musing art does.
At its core, Chariots of Fire is not a movie about running or the Olympics, or even its two main characters – Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. At its core (its “soul of souls,” as my mom would say) Chariots of Fire is the story of the curse and its strangle on man, and it is the tale of freedom over the curse.
After Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed the serpent, the woman, and the man. These are the words of God to man (Genesis 3).
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
There are a myriad of principles, theologies, thoughts, and tragic repercussions that can be drawn from this passage. For me, one of the most significant and tragic is the loss of pleasure and enjoyment in work. In other words, before the curse of man, Adam’s work was pleasurable and filled with enjoyment. After the curse, Adam’s work was frustrating (frustrating in the true definition of the word – to be thwarted), painful, and seemingly futile; “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground”. Before the fall, all that Adam put his hand to was pleasurable, after the fall it became frustrating.
This is what it means to be a fallen, cursed man; to work your hardest at whatever “you put your hand to” and to be thwarted; for the pleasure of work to be robbed by the frustration of toil. Men don’t hate their jobs because the job is difficult. They hate it because they have forgotten how to take pleasure in it (even menial jobs, maybe especially menial work).
Many of you may at this point be thinking something along the lines of “work isn’t meant to be pleasurable, it’s work”. I would say to you that that isn’t a good definition of work.
Rev 4:11 “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are, and were created.”
All things were created for the “pleasure” of God. Created by and for and with pleasure.
Enter the story of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. Both men world class athletes. Two of the fastest men on planet earth. One consumed and defined by running. One who learned to take pleasure in it.
I see myself, and every male I know, mirrored in the story of these two men. I feel my own soul seemingly bifurcated between their two stories. As I work, I feel the call to take co-pleasure with my Creator, and I feel the frustration and pain of toil.
And this is what Chariots of Fire is really about. One man who works under the curse and one man who lives in freedom through the blood of Christ.
Three of the most powerfully defining quotes that I have ever come across are from this film. Two from Abrahams. One from Liddell. Each statement indicative of the man. One statement saturated in freedom. Two statements dripping with the shame and frustration of the curse.
After spending years in training, forsaking friendships, family, school, and work – literally giving everything he has to running, Abrahams utters these profound words right before his big Olympic race. “And now in one hour’s time I will be out there again. I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor; four feet wide, with ten lonely seconds to justify my whole existence. But WILL I?”
And when asked if he enjoys running, Abrahams responds, “I’m more of an addict. It’s a compulsion with me, a weapon I can use”.
How tragic! Harold Abrahams believed that his existence would be justified by a race! How many of us men believe the same lie. This is what the curse has done to man. Work to justify existence! Where is the joy? Where is the pleasure? Where is the enjoyment of the process? Where is the co-creation with our Creator, in whose image we are made?
Eric Liddell, speaking to his sister about running, says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure”.
The redemptive hope for man in nestled inside this incredible truth. God made man for a purpose, and God designed man to work (play, create, write, sing, etc.) with the enjoyment of His pleasure.
So go watch Chariots of Fire, either for the first time or again, and allow God to speak to you through the stories of these men. Wives, sisters, and daughters will see the men in their lives so accurately mirrored. Men will see themselves.
And hopefully, the next time you (men) play a sport, or put your hands to your work, you will feel God’s pleasure on you.