Friday, October 15, 2004


Seabiscuit is one of those movies which I should have seen much earlier, but did not do so because of the generally unfavourable reviews which I received from friends. Next time, I am going to be much more probing and patient.
It turned out to be one of the most incredible movies I have seen in many years. But here I must say something about movies in general. Different people have a different penchant towards movies. Most of the times, this is obviously so because of our specific interests. An ice-hockey fan is much more likely to truly appreciate the movie 'Miracle', based on the American team's victory against Russia in the 1981 olympics. And so it goes for any one of us. In my case, American History is one of my major intersts, and I so I don't find it surprising that I greatly liked 'Seabiscuit'.

The movie is hardly about a horse, although the horse is the central character in the movie. The most important thing is that it's based on a true story and that changes the equations. Seabiscuit, first and last, is about a people, struggling through depression times, who come together as a nation, beginning a juggernaut towards freedom and progress that continues to this day (Unfortunately we cannot be as certain about that statement given the events and attitudes of the past decade). The common spirit which embodies the American people and their dreams clearly shines through in the movie. Representing this dream is an unlikely combination of men; an ardent businessman who is the eternal optimist, a cast away but spirited trainer who nonetheless has a remarkable way with horses, and a smart alec, ambitious and intense jockey, with all the follies and hopes of youth. All three are facing the cruel ways of the depression. The businessman has lost a child and has been through a divorce, and is struggling to achieve his pre depression eminence and status. He meets a woman, in every way his equal, who will support him through every time. Having risen from rags to riches, he is the perfect example of the American ideal, honest yet ambitious, having great strength of character, yet warm, and most importantly, blissfully optimistic about the future. And that's exactly where the finishing line is for him-at the future. An extremely talented salesman, he is looking forward to have something to live for. Opportunity comes in the form of an aged, quiet, and extremely sincere horse trainer, who has a private and warm relationship with horses. The third character in the drama is a jockey who is struggling to make ends meet. A fierce ambition and Dickens's works keep him alive and well. Together, these three 'can-do' Americans find a horse, a lazy creature who nonetheless captures the attention of all three. They train him, plod him and finally lead him to victory. But that is as far as it can be trivialised.
The story of the horse is the story of the American people. This is demonstrated most convincingly in the publicity interviews which the businessman is extremely fond of giving. Slowly but surely, the horse is winning his way to success. He has to compete against the best bred animals in the country. He loses some, he wins some. In speaking to the reporters, who in those days were hungry for any heartening news to take the public's mind off the economic crisis, he constantly extols the virtues of not giving up. 'You lose some, and you win some. Sometimes, you fall down. But then you either pack up and go home, or you stay put and fight', he says. The reporters nod their head vigorously. That is what strikes a chord in the mind of every American in that time. 'Stay put!' That's exactly what Americans did in the 20s and 30s. And that is exactly what enabled that country to become the citadel of democracy during the dark ages that followed. It is all too easy for critics to attribute America's success to resources and money. But if it had not been for the unity and sense of a common way of life that millions of Americans shared, and the nitty gritty that they put into achieving it, all that would have come to naught. It is a tribute to the can-do spirit of the 'Yankees'. And Seabiscuit was one type of an epitome of that spirit. He did inspire a nation in a subtle but archetypal way, and it worked.

As for the performances, I have seldom seen such fine performances in which the actors really walk around in the skin of the characters. It's hard to say who among the three was better: Jeff Bridges as the good businessman with a gleam in his eye, always looking towards the future, Chris Cooper as the laid back looking but resolute horse trainer (his bearing is amazing), or Toby Maguire as the headstrong and single minded young jockey. I would say that each one of them deserved an Oscar nomination. The recreation of the period is charming, and the musical score by Randy Newman is perfect and nostalgic.

One of the allegiations I have heard about this movie is that it's predictable. But then so was the story about the prince, princess and the demon which my mother told me as a child. That fact diminished neither the virtue nor the value of the story. And in this case, the story is true. The fact that it's predictable does not mar it's inspirational character one bit. Also, it obviously looks predictable in retrospect! The three central characters hardly knew what their and their horse's fate was going to be. And a disturbed nation hardly knew what tidings the future would bring for her. But the horse and the nation, both persevered, and, at least for the most part, became a model of democracy for the rest of the world in a century that had almost brought it to an end through conflict.


Blogger Sumedha said...

Something I admire about the Americans is that their day begins so early..they're at work by 8 am, sometimes by 7 or even 6:30 :-O

5:31 AM  

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