Monday, October 25, 2010
Secretariat -- running the race
Director: Randall Wallace, 2010. (PG)
Secretariat was a winning horse and is a winning film from the Disney stable. Like many Disney movies, this one is saccharine sweet and a little over the top. But for all that, it is a family friendly engaging tale. Based on true events, it tells the story of a racehorse and its owner. Those old enough to remember already know the gist of the plot, but younger viewers, such as my daughter, it is will find new and fresh. However, given its predictability, Mike Rich's screenplay focuses on Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane), the horse's owner.
In the late 60s women were still second-class citizens in a male-dominated world, especially in the south. Penny's father (Scott Glenn) is a stable owner whose declining health prevents him from running the farm. Her brother and husband want to sell. But this is her father's legacy, and Penny is torn. She stays on to look into things and ends up with a new foal, "Big Red," later named Secretariat befrore his first race. She knows, this is the one. Along with her team of new, eccentric trainer, Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), stable-hand Eddy Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) and personal secretary Miss Ham (Margo Martindale), she expects greatness from this horse. If not, the farm and her personal finances are history.
This all comes at a price, though. To run a horse farm requires a firm hand and an active presence. While Penny takes over this horse business in Virginia she leaves her husband and four kids in Denver. Without cell phones, she has to rely on corded phones in hotel bedrooms to keep up with the events in the lives of her children.
Secretariat highlights how much things have changed for women in the last 40 years. Where Penny had to fight to be respected as a housewife taking control of a business, this is a common situation today. One scene shows her walking into a gentleman's club to talk to her father's friend to find a trainer, evading the waitress who wants her to leave. She had to create her own opportunities despite a lack of racing knowledge and little support from her husband.
Yet Penny struggled to maintain balance. The stables needed more attention and her family lost out. Even today this is an issue that mothers struggle with. The job opportunities are more plentiful and there is less gender discrimination than Penny faced, but women still have to sacrifice time with their children. The "model wife" of Proverbs 31 is an industrious woman who works and cares for her family, but there is little biblical mandate one way or the other. More than ever, it is the question of career commitment or necessity. Some family situations force both parents to work to survive; others have a single mother having to support her children. But if it is a matter of desire for more things or money, then the price is too high. No amount of money can make up for the loss of time spent with children and the consequent loss of influence over them.
Diane Lane as Penny comes across as an ordinary housewife. She looks older than her 45 years and less elegant. But it is her film, and she is center-stage. Although some of the dialog is cheesy, most of the film and the acting rises above this and provides an inspirational and motivational story. As the wins mount up, Secretariat draws attention for the possibility of winning the Triple Crown of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Underdog horse is matched by underdog owner. It is enough to bring goosebumps during the races even if you know the result.
Against the backdrop of horse racing, Secretariat offers several lessons on life and leadership. As Penny's father tells her and then she yells later, "Let him run his race." Sometimes we want to control others and want them to do things our way. We need to trust in them and their instincts. Secretariat was a horse unlike any around him and he ran his race his way. We need to run our race our way, the way God has designed us. And we need to trust others in the same manner.
Moreover, Penny gives us a Disney-esque piece of advice: "You never know how far you can go unless you run." We can train all we want. We can strategize. But until we go out there and run it is all moot. We prepare so we can perform. It is on the stage of real life that we show who we are and what we can do. Secretariat did just that and surprised most. We may surprise others, we may even surprise ourselves, but we will never surprise God. At the end of his life, the apostle Paul wrote, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (1 Tim. 4:7). He ran his race.
And finally, Penny says: "It's not whether they think we won. It's whether we think we won." We will not win if we do not run, if we don't participate. Life and ministry is not a spectator sport. We need to get in the game. Once in the game, we don't need to be defined by others and their opinions of us. Our value is not determined by them. We need to derive assurance and confidence from within, thinking like winners. Ultimately, though, our value comes from God. True success is found in him. Does God think we won? If he does, then it matters little what others think. We can be champions, like Secretariat, despite all that others may say, as we run our race and rely on our God.
at 7:00 AM