at the risk of being branded a heretic, i'll say flat out - this is the WORST RUNNING MOVIE of all time. in other words, i come not praise "the loneliness of the long distance runner," but to bury it and any thought it could inspire a runner, or any athlete, in any way! i read the short story years ago and was shocked by the shallow, childish ending. how would anyone find that outcome inspirational? a year or so later i picked up a vhs copy of the movie - and seeing it brought to life on the screen only reinforced my visceral disgust with the story line.
what, you may wonder, made me revisit this film all these years later? before i head down that road, for anyone who hasn't read the short story or seen the film: spoiler alert. to understand this rant a working knowledge of the ("surprise") finish is necessary. in all the races i've run (and i've run a few over the years), i've never met anyone who intentionally threw a race - especially to spite someone else. to watch the protagonist of this film stop short of of the finish line and baldly wait for the opposing team's runner to catch up, pass him and go on to win the race is anathema to my decidedly old-school way of thinking.
i'm quite capable of joining the long line of apologists who dredge up lame excuse after lame excuse for why colin refused to win the 5 mile cross country interschool championship. one beauty is he wants to remain true to himself and not participate in the system that is oppressing him. nor does colin want to reward the hypocritical governor of the reform school by winning - for him. there are more, but i'll toss them into the same humble category - tripe. colin didn't have to run the race. nor did he need to accept the benefits of being the school's best runner - namely getting to train outside the grounds of the facility or the "soft" work assignment.
he took the advantages and he threw the race. while some may pat him on the back for taking a stand - he too is a hypocrite (isn't he?). more importantly, however, colin lost the race for his teammates and school. even if he didn't care one wit about winning, a lot of (non-establishment) others did. while the "angry young men" (class consciousness) attitude of thumbing one's nose at the system was clearly present throughout the film - a noticeable tear in that facade was the crush of fellow boys behind the rope fence begging, urging, pleading with colin to win.
abstraction is one thing - but a cheering crowd of fellow reform school inmates that colin refuses to acknowledge - while finding the wherewithal to toss a sneer at the headmaster - is the bloody cold reality of this shallow character. he figuratively cut off his nose to spite his face?! no runner, no jogger, no weekend warrior, no athlete of whatsoever sport would behave in such a callous manner.
which gets me to why on earth i'd dredge this old story up. this is not a blog about politics, but sometimes it does seep in around the edges. last week the governor of illinois was impeached (for trying to sell senator obama's vacated senate seat). commenting on the legislature's action when he returned from a jog, governor blagojevich said that:
"his situation reminded him of the short story "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner," about a petty criminal who takes up running. "And that's what this is, by the way, a long-distance run," he said."
priceless - or, in other words, you just can't make this stuff up!!
postscript: while i loath the "running" message (or non-message) of the story - the film itself, qua film, is excellent - and i would recommend it. tom courtenay, who portrayed colin in the film (together with other performances that year), was awarded the 1962 bafta award (the british oscar equivalent) for most promising newcomer.