A Four-Legged Christ Figure
Elizabeth Mitchell on the best picture-nominee 'Seabiscuit'Three Strides Before the Wire: The Dark and Beautiful World of Horseracing," just out in paperback. She is also the author of "W: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty," and is currently writing a novel on the clash of faiths during the early years of Christianity.
"Seabiscuit" is the film version of the bestselling book by Laura Hillenbrand recounting the reign of a small, once overlooked thoroughbred as a track and media star of the late 1930s. The horse's unlikely success also redeems the lives of his jockey, trainer and owner, while rejuvenating a nation suffering through the Great Depression.
For people who didn't see the movie, and those who didn't read the book, how do they compare?
The movie is a slightly simpler version of the real story, so it didn't move me as much as the book or the story in real life. But it's very beautiful, and it captures visually the sort of grandeur of the horses and how that inspires people who are at the track.
What it is about horses that makes them so inspirational?
Horses have an ancient, mythical value. In Greek mythology, the horse was considered the most beautiful creation imaginable. The horse is useful, or was traditionally, in enabling humans to explore large territories, work on their farms, get from one place to another. On the other hand, they're more mysterious than, say, a dog or a cow, because they have this wild streak to them. And the relative silence of the horse compared to other animals, and their size. The fact that they are somewhat physically intimidating, and yet accept humans as passengers without much complaint is really a pretty extraordinary thing.
But the horse in "Seabiscuit" was revered even more deeply. When everybody was down, they turned to the horse, rather than to God.
Yes, particularly toward the end, Seabiscuit becomes this Christ-like figure, inspiring the masses to feel that they have some worth. Also in that last scene, Red Pollard says, "He fixed us, every one of us, and we fixed each other, too."