4 Stars - Inspiring
In this inspiring story of “Seabiscuit,” the lives of three men and a horse, all battered yet not broken by life, come together in a caring community and triumph of spirit. The blending of history with fiction in Gary Ross’ film is an educational and entertaining feast. Based on the true story of the feisty bay thoroughbred who was rejected as a loser only to come back and beat the triple-crown winner, this film lifts the spirits of all who have ever been down and out.
This enhanced history lesson takes place in the years surrounding the stock-market crash of 1929. After experiencing high hopes and a booming economy, the sudden loss of jobs and fortunes devastated the lives of many Americans. Looking for renewed hope in their despair, people throughout our country were captivated by Seabiscuit’s drive to overcome the obstacles of his life. His struggle is paralleled with the lives of the three men who are brought together and begin to care for each other in the process of training Seabiscuit. It is their combined journey that creates this inspiring tale.
The first man is an enterprising man who creates an automobile empire. Beginning as a bicycle repairman, Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) discovers an innate ability to motivate others, whether selling an automobile or selling a dream. When tragedy strikes his prosperous family and he loses his son and wife, Howard’s grief turns to thoroughbred racing as a distraction. What he finds instead is healing for his soul.
In a similar way, Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) is a horseman who has spent his life understanding and caring for horses. As the nation turned from horses to automobiles, Smith finds himself without work or a future when his care for a damaged horse brings him to Howard’s attention. In an encounter that describes the theme of the film, Howard understands why Smith has nursed back to health a horse that was going to be killed because of a fractured leg. When Howard questions him why, he explains: “You don’t throw a whole life away just ‘cause its banged up a little.” This philosophy applies to virtually everyone in the film and everyone in our nation during that time of history. Admiring his skills as well as his compassion, Howard hires Smith and together they search for a racing horse and a jockey.
The jockey they find is Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire). The son of a proud and wealthy man who lost everything in the stock-market crash, Pollard is abandoned by his father and mother and left to fend for himself in the racing world. Justifying their abandonment by convincing themselves that their son has a “gift” with horses, Pollard never sees them again. The anger of his rejection drives Pollard through a series of jobs, fights and races as he attempts to find his way.
Too large to be a jockey, but a gifted and fearless rider, Pollard understands Seabiscuit’s pain and rage, so Smith and Howard hire Pollard to ride for them. The journey then plays out one of the most compelling portrayals of a “David and Goliath” story ever seen in horseracing history.
The attitude of many people when they face tragedy, changing culture and family rejection is to blame their failures on these powerful events. But the inspiration of this film is that it shows the way a group of broken people can come together in a supportive community and make the impossible happen.
- When Howard, Smith and Pollard are all sitting in church, the implication is that they were persons of faith. How did the film demonstrate their goodness and faith in the creation of their friendship and support of one another?
- When Pollard’s anger costs Howard and Smith the first race of Seabiscuit, Howard does not fire Pollard but instead reaches deep inside his soul and asks him why he is so angry. How is the care he exhibited different from the usual attitudes of people?
- When Howard discovers that Pollard is blind in one eye and cannot see a horse coming up on the outside, he does not fire him but repeats to Smith the adage he had said to him, “You don’t throw a whole life away just ‘cause its banged up a little.” Where do you think this philosophy comes from in Howard’s and Smith’s lives? Is it common today?
- Do you believe Howard’s decision of letting Pollard ride again even though he is afraid he may be thrown and killed was a wise or foolish decision? How did Howard’s loss of his son impact this decision? What do you think would have happened if he had been injured or killed?