I keep a list of potential article ideas for Odyssey, but for this week I decided to forgo those overdone concepts (travel, high school graduation, living in a certain city) for something a little more interesting.
While it has been 4 years since the first time I watched "Seabiscuit (2003)," the film truly left a strong, emotional impression on me. The story, script, and cinematography were influential to the point that I asked my eighth-grade teacher for a copy to watch in the future. The day came to rewatch the amazing journey, and I was once again stunned.
The story of Seabiscuit, an American thoroughbred racehorse, was the stuff of American legends. At the time, the country was experiencing one of its worst lows in history - the Great Depression - and nobody believed that there was any hope of achieving progress. People lined up for blocks to get jobs, eat food, sell their belongings, and beg for money. Photographs depict dark alleyways, dirty streets, unkempt appearances, and decrepit families. The lives of ordinary Americans that were affluent during the Roaring 20s were uprooted. Most turned to gambling as well as alcohol and drugs to drown their sorrows, including two of the film's main characters.
It was through studying of the Great Depression in my last year of middle school that I was first exposed to the movie, but the Great Depression also brought together four misfits that would go on to become heroes. These were: Seabiscuit (racehorse), Johnny "Red" Pollard (horse jockey), Tom Smith (horse trainer), and Charles Howard (horse owner).
These four individuals were all underdogs and had tough lives. Seabiscuit was small, lazy, temperamental, and a typical loser with an ungainly limp. He ate too much and slept too often, more than any other horse. His past was marked by abusive treatment. Red was a young man formerly from a wealthy family, significantly damaged by the Depression, who was working at the bottom of the racing circuit. He moonlighted as a boxer. Smith was a quiet and reserved man who made ordinary horses into champions. Charles was a former auto distributor with guilt over his only son's early death who turned to his true passion - horses.
Over time, the unlikely team strengthened Seabiscuit by weaning him from his old ways. They brought in an old companion, who calmed the thoroughbred's nerves. They began with loose riding, as far as the difficult horse could go. Considerate and dedicated training catapulted Seabiscuit up into the winner's circle, with the team winning race after race. Yet their shining moment came when they challenged the true champion of American horse racing at the time.
Their rivals - owner Samuel Riddle and horse War Admiral - were winners without a doubt. Unlike Seabiscuit, they had a Triple Crown (a series of three high-stakes races). The day of the Pimlico Match Race, November 1st, 1938, was said to be the "race of the century". Just as an underdog does, Seabiscuit came out on top with four lengths between him and the regal horse. The public's hearts and spirits were lifted by the successes of someone who you least expected. If Seabiscuit could conquer his obstacles, why couldn't they?
Unfortunately, both Seabiscuit and his chosen jockey Red were sidelined by injuries multiple times throughout their heyday. Red was benched for the famous match race, and Seabiscuit after him. Their pain was heavy, but the two bonded during their recuperation, and worked as hard as ever to regain their place as America's "champions". They trained at night with a bell so that Seabiscuit could overcome his fear of the gates, and again returned to long aimless rides into the California meadows. At this point in the film, I was already in love with the team that when I saw the jockey fall from a spooked horse, I thought everything was over. But witnessing his return back to the game, I was filled with hope - just like the typical Americans of his time.
Seabiscuit, Red Pollard, Charles Howard, and Tom Smith ran their last race together at their home track's premier race whose first-place finish had eluded the team three times. The Santa Anita Handicap of 1940, according to Red, was "the greatest ride with the greatest horse that ever lived". The underdog champion started off last, but with one look in a competitor's eyes (ridden by Red's friend George Woolf, who had filled in for Red at the famous match race), took off on his last great stride. One by one, he beat the horses and raced for the finish. This is where the film ends, with a strong quote that has become one of my personal favorites:
"You know, everybody thinks we found this broken-down horse and fixed him, but we didn't. He fixed us. Every one of us. And I guess in a way we kinda fixed each other too"
I felt that the movie paid justice to such a heartwarming story that enlivened an entire nation, with an emotional soundtrack, stellar cast, perfect pacing, and touching script. My favorite aspect of the film was the storytelling ability of director Gary Ross. I saw as each member of the team grow from their roots (in all areas) into the strongest horse-racing team America had ever seen. You are almost there with them as they climbed to the top of the newspaper headlines, race podiums, and human spirit. No wonder it was nominated for 7 Oscars.