Monday, November 14, 2011

film review: the cup

A confession. As a Baptist minister, I once found myself winning at the races.

Like all confessions, the slippery slope began some time prior, when I was teaching a class on crossing cultural boundaries. Which resulted in a lively discussion on the applications for life in New Zealand.

One Canterbury student suggests NZ Trotting Cup Day at Addington was for him a cross culture experience, a boundary he then suggested we should cross together. Finding it hard to resist such a public challenge, I found myself in a world of fine hats and fit horses.

As the day drew on, I decided that part of the cross cultural challenge must include meeting the bookies. I mean, if I as church minister expected people to not only enter, but also play in my religious world, then surely the least I could do was participate in theirs.

A bet was duly placed. Later, with a mighty surge my horse was in the money and I left the Addington Showgrounds a good deal hoarser, albiet a few dollars richly.

Memories of horse and hats returned as I watched “The Cup” (directed by Simon Wincer). Based on a true story, of Australian jockey, Damien Oliver (acted by Stephen Curry), who in 2003 rode the Irish horse, Magic Puzzle, to Melbourne Cup victory, a week after the death of his older brother and fellow-jockey, Jason (acted by Daniel MacPherson).

A feature of the film is the use of mirroring. Black and white footage of historic Melbourne Cups is placed alongside racing today; TV footage of Bali bombing is placed alongside the trackside death of Jason Oliver; colour footage of Jason’s body lying lifeless on a hospital bed is placed alongside black and white footage of Jason’s father, who also died while racing.

Such mirroring includes an intriguing window onto the entwined relationship between identity and spirituality, with Damien at the hospital wishes his brother well in death, while his mother at the church, prays for his soul in the afterlife.

Kiwi viewers will bristle at the film’s treatment of Temuka born Phar Lap and the assumption that he is Australian, so soon after the scene in which Irish horse owner Dermot Weld (played by Brendan Gleeson) complains: “They want our presence. They just don’t want us to win. This race is part of who they are. We’re up against the whole of Australia.”

The movie captures some, but not all of the racing industry. It finds the fashion, exploits the dangers and holds the traces on the relationships between horse and human. Yet it skims over the problems of gambling and misses the vulnerability of young girls drinking beyond limits. A movie worth your time, if not your dividend.

Which might leave some of you pondering the fate of my race winnings. A story best left untold, for it would require revealing a certain local Baptist building project built on winnings from the horses!

A 500 word (monthly) film review by Steve Taylor (for Touchstone magazine). Film reviews of the most common contemporary films, each with a theological perspective, (over 60) back to 2005 can be found here.

Posted by steve at 10:51 PM

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