Megan’s Movie Night: Secretariat

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, February 8th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham reviews an equestrian film she finds acceptable for all ages.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: Disney’s 2010 horse race movie, Secretariat, is rated PG for mild language, but it hearkens back to the kind of movies that made the studio beloved by families around the world. It’s hopeful, cheerful, even funny. And there’s nothing in it to keep you from seeing it with either your 88-year-old grandmother or your 8-year-old daughter. Even better, both are likely to enjoy it.

By approaching the true story through the life of housewife-turned-racehorse-owner Penny Chenery, director Randall Wallace keeps the tension high even though almost everyone already knows the outcome. The movie is less about the horse than it is about Chenery and her struggle to balance being a good wife and mother with fulfilling her personal dream. Some viewers may debate whether she achieves that balance, but mothers everywhere will sympathize with her.

CLIP: When I went off to college I felt like that colt. Full of promise. Full of adventure, like I could make something work. I gave up a career to have our family, and this colt is part of our family now. I just want to see him run. So after two years of juggling all this, it isn’t ending, it’s just beginning.

As both a writer and director, Wallace has a history of making movies about uncommon heroes. He wrote the screenplays for Braveheart and Pearl Harbor and wrote and directed We Were Soldiers. While his previous work focused mostly on war heroes, the character of Penny Chenery (wonderfully played by Diane Lane) is not as far from such men as she might seem.

When I interviewed Wallace at the time of the film’s release, he said, “In so many stories it’s your enemies that oppose you, but in this case it was the people Penny Chenery was closest to who were telling her she couldn’t do it. . . . Sometimes that’s the central battle of life.”

Wallace knows a lot about resisting what at first seems like the best path in favor of a riskier one for which God has better gifted you. When he was still a student at Duke Divinity School, he decided to enter the movie business rather than full-time ministry.

“I think a minister can probably accomplish pretty much anything I could, but this is my calling,” he told me. “I can tell you that Braveheart and some of the other films I’ve done have been purer messages of what I believe than what I could have preached from a pulpit. It’s the reason I’m a storyteller instead of a minister.”

While he avoids preaching in his films, his Christian worldview shines through in his scripts, and that’s particularly true in Secretariat.

CLIP: More than 3,000 years ago a man named Job complained to God about all his troubles. The Bible tells us that God answered, ‘Do you give the horse his strength? Or clothe his neck with a flowing mane…’

Even in its treatment of 1960s politics, the movie’s big heart manages to be kind to all sides. The daughters are anti-war and pro-peace-signs, but they show respect for their parents’ views. The parents are conservative red-staters, but they don’t get overly angry about their beliefs.

In fact, some of us older heads might want to reflect back on these scenes when the would-be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes in our own lives start to sound off. Rather than mock or lecture, Penny and her husband simply smile at one another, believing their girls might see things differently when they’re older.

CLIP: Your daughters have something they want to talk to you about.
Oh, what’s that?
Tate and I were thinking about going to Chile. Just for a couple of months.
Chile, what for?
Teach English, learn Spanish. It’s part of a cultural mission.
A mission to stir up trouble and act cool you mean? Chile is socialist now.
It is not and that’s not why we’re going. Although, if an opportunity to protest the war presented itself—
See, this is what you’re missing, your teenage daughters are growing up to be rebels.
More like hippies. Hippies are running away from paying the price of freedom.
If it’s freedom, how is there a price, dad?
I’ll answer that question when you become an adult.

There are some corny moments, like the Scarlett O’Hara worthy “I’ll never go hungry again” speech from Lane that is more likely to elicit titters than tears. But these are brief and easily forgotten when John Malkovich walks on screen as hilarious horse trainer Lucien Laurin.

CLIP: Well Mr. Laurin, what do you think? I think he’s 1100 pounds of baby fat. He eats too much and too often. The only reason he doesn’t eat more is because he’s too busy sleeping. He only does what he wants to do exactly when he wants to do it. He lays against the back of that starting gate like he’s in a hammock in the Caribbean. And when he does finally get out of the gate it takes him forever to find his stride. Any more questions? I have one: how much did you spend on that hat?

Though the story isn’t overtly spiritual, the soundtrack, along with some wonderfully apt quotations from Job will make Christian viewers feel like we’re the ones in the winner’s circle for once.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.


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