October 6, 2010

“Secretariat” wins on many levels

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Television, Women at 10:34 pm by dinaheng

Those who know nothing about the world of horse racing are going to love the new Disney movie “Secretariat.” Those who are horse racing fans may nitpick at some of the details, but they’re going to find plenty to love, as well.

More than a sports film, the movie that opens October 8 is the story of Penny Chenery Tweedy, a Denver housewife whose faith in her big chestnut-colored horse changed the face of horse racing. Set in the early 1970s, the tale chronicles the struggle of a woman to be recognized and respected in a male-dominated sport during a time when the nation was struggling to find hope in the quagmire of the Vietnam War.

When Chenery (played by Diane Lane) takes over her ailing father’s stables, she works with veteran trainer Lucien Laurin (played by John Malkovich) to groom Secretariat, a seemingly laid back runner, into the 1973 Triple Crown winner that became recognized as one of the greatest race horses in history.

Director Randall Wallace — whose writing credits include “Braveheart,” “Pearl Harbor,” “We Were Soldiers” and “Man in the Iron Mask” — has given the film a joyful, uplifting tone that says when you follow your heart, you will win more than success.

“I’m sometimes asked why I make war stories, and I don’t,” says Wallace, sitting in a restaurant at the Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, Calif. “I make movies about love. War makes us look at what do we love enough to sacrifice our lives for.

” ‘Secretariat’ has the same theme, but it’s not layered with a sense of loss. It’s layered with a sense of glory and victory. We need stories that say courage works, and love prevails.”

Wallace, who grew up in Jackson, Tenn. and put himself through a year of seminary before turning to the entertainment industry, is a Southern gentleman whose spirituality clearly shows in the film’s opening use of Biblical text and musical choices. It is a spirituality rooted in Christianity, but not dogmatic in delivery.

“I grew up in an extremely observant household, full of fun and life, but really stringent rules,” Wallace says. “We had powerful codes of behavior and honor. In this movie, I get to express everything that’s good about faith, hope and courage. It’s about the experience of the heart.”

He shares a story about being asked to teach once at the Catholic University of Milan. Wallace, a Protestant, had gone to see Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper with a Catholic priest who was a member of Opus Dei, and a friend from Afghanistan who was a devout Muslim.

“I love church architecture, and asked to see some,” Wallace says, explaining that the three then went into a beautiful cathedral. “We walked in together, and I asked if it would be all right if the three of us prayed. So we all knelt and said a silent prayer. Later, I asked what my friend, the Muslim, had prayed.”

Wallace says his friend answered, “I prayed to thank God that there are people who made a building so beautiful and dedicated to God.”

Finding common ground in spiritual beliefs, or in any aspect of life, lies in listening to what is in our hearts, and Wallace has extended that message to “Secretariat.” Chenery’s journey from traditional housewife to businesswoman shows how the wife and mother bridged differences with her husband and male colleagues to become a successful woman in her own right.

Unfortunately, in real life, the story didn’t end there, as Chenery and her husband Jack Tweedy divorced the year after the Triple Crown win. Her second marriage to Lennart Ringquist also ended in divorce.

Nevertheless, the story Wallace tells is inspirational and a pleasure to watch.

“It’s been the most joyous film to make,” Wallace says. “When Penny’s at her darkest time, and everyone’s failing to support her in the movie, she declares, ‘We’re going to live  rejoicing.’ And that’s what the movie says. It’s okay to rejoice. It’s a form of cowardice not to accept joy in your life.”

So if you’re in the mood for some joy, “Secretariat” is a sure bet.

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