18 October 2010


Took my mother to a movie I wouldn’t have seen if I had a greater opportunity of choice: Secretariat. It is referred to as a ‘feel-good movie,’ and I suppose it is. The film is about the great race horse, known to his friends as Big Red, but to the track crowd referred to as Secretariat. The meaning behind the name was absent from the film.

Secretariat, a film ostensibly about the first horse to have won the triple crown in racing in four decades (the previous winner being Citation for whom no film has yet been made), was really the story of the woman who owned Secretariat  and who had him trained to run. She took possession of Big Red in a titular coin toss—the winner got to choose the foal of two who were expected to be born at the same time, and though she lost the toss, she acquired the foal she most desired. She intended from the beginning to race the horse. She hired the eccentric trainer Lucian Laurin who hired the rider, Ron Turcotte. The sole African American face in the film belonged to Eddie Smith, the loyal, dedicated stable boy. I suppose each of the characters invests his/her dream in the horse, and so when the horse succeeds, so too do those about him. Perhaps you begin to hear the cliché.

There were financial issues complicating everything—and whether she should sell Big Red for six million dollars to save the farm that was valued at six million dollars, or risk the farm for her dream (damn the money when dreams are concerned), became the real substance of the movie. Her perfect family—not without conflict but certainly without any threat—contained four beautiful children, one of whom was a token hippie (the film takes place in 1972-3 and the older daughter vigorously and prettily and safely opposes the Vietnam War), and a very financially successful husband. In one scene both the husband and younger daughter walk barefoot on the front porch of their Southern home in bare feet—my mother was appalled! The husband suffers occasional fits of pique that his wife is off with the horses and not cooking dinner, but he never does get the cuff of his starched shirt damp from the dishwater and spills no tomato sauce on his table cloth that he then has to wash and iron. Her older brother is a Professor of Economics at Harvard. This is no family like that in which most of the rest of us reside. Indeed, this film contained no complexity or real doubt—we all knew that Secretariat would succeed.

So why did I cry?

Indeed, my eyes welled up throughout the film, and I think it was because the intensity of hope and desire and­­—and, yes love—that each character invested in that horse reminded me of the intensity of hope and desire and, and, yes, love—that I have invested in my children. And the joy with which each character celebrated Secretariat’s successes filled me with the expectation of a joy I hope to experience, I want so much success for my children, but finally, it is their race to run. It wasn’t Secretariat for whom I cared, it was whom Secretariat stood for that I hoped and dreamed. 


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