As soon as I learned Disney was putting out a movie about the greatest horse of all time I knew I had to see it. But it wasn’t so much about the horse as much as it was about the time. It’s hard to imagine in 2010 a race horse having rock star status in America, but it was a different time.
Horse racing was still a major sport, and in the era of Watergate, hippies, and Vietnam the American people were looking for something to believe in. This was before the VCR, before cable, before the internet; a time when American culture wasn’t fragmented in a million different directions. And who could not be moved by what might be once in forever greatness.
Although I don’t remember the specific moments when Secretariat raced, like I remembered Nixon announcing his resignation, Robert Kennedy’s assassination, or the first landing on the moon, I vividly remember the phenomenon of Secretariat. This freak of nature swept up an entire country in his pursuit of immortality.
Nostalgia is a powerful and interesting phenomenon we tend to indulge in as we get older, and it is something I used to disparage when I was young. The older I get the more I realize how wrong I was. Life is a journey, and for each of us a profound one, because it is our journey. And I am convinced that every human being is struck by the relentless finality of time’s passing. In a way we are incredulous. It seems almost like yesterday that our children were born, or that we were married, or that we were in high school or college. How can this be?
Time’s passage brings low the mighty, makes man’s hubris an exercise in futility. You may be on top now, but one day you will feel the sting of death. Is this, the wise man asks, all there is? Nostalgia is a yearning for immortality, a yearning to capture time in a bottle, to make it stop, to make a claim on existence, that there is more than this fleeting experience we call life.
Yes, I got all this and more out of a movie about the greatest race horse of all time. It’s nice to see Hollywood make a movie that affirms basic American values, those values that have made America exceptional. Overcoming odds, faith in the future, the pursuit of greatness, the grandeur of God’s creation (the movie starts with Diane Lane, who plays Secretariat’s owner, quoting God’s answering Job about the magnificence of his creation that is the horse). There are some who don’t like such movies, but for most average Americans the thrill of chasing a dream and sometimes winning is entertainment worth seeing.
One qualm I had about the movie makes it a thoroughly modern film. In the early 1970s everybody, or so it seemed, smoked. Yet not one cigarette could be found in the movie, lest it, one presumes, influence impressionable youths and get something beyond a PG rating. Oh well, I guess that’s not all bad. For those of us who want a bit more realism there is always “Mad Men.”