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Seabiscuit: Not About A Horse

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By Alyce Barry

I missed Seabiscuit when it was in the theatres last summer. Not too surprising, since I was selling my house, sending my daughter off to college, and moving across the country. The truth is, I often miss the big blockbusters because the hype puts me off, and the ads for Seabiscuit were everywhere.

A few weeks ago, I saw the DVD at the video store, and rented it. I enjoyed it so much that I've seen it three times, bought the DVD, and watched all the special features. At one point, I thought to myself, I didn't think I'd like a movie about horseracing this much.

And I realized, it isn't actually a movie about horseracing.


I think that's why some film critics are surprised the movie was nominated for Best Picture. Roger Ebert mentioned the movie's "curious indifference to betting," which is, of course, horseracing's reason for being. On NPR, Scott Simon and sports commentator Ron Rapoport wondered aloud about the nomination since, as Rapoport put it, "it didn't really capture that great racetrack nitty-gritty in Laura Hillenbrand's wonderful book." At the New York Times' online movie review page, several people mentioned that the movie needed more scenes about racing.


Seabiscuit is actually a movie about acceptance. About how acceptance turns a life around, how it motivates us, and how it leads us in directions we can't even imagine, to achieve success we never dared dream of, and how it makes us capable of accepting others in turn. The movie just happens to be set against a backdrop of horseracing.

I don't want to say too much more in case you haven't seen the movie yet. But I will mention one scene which shows one character accepting another energetically — with looks, and touch, and very few words.

Seabiscuit's jockey, Red Pollard — who was abandoned by his family and grew up angry — comes to the horse's owner, Charles Howard, to ask for money so he can see a dentist.

"I need ten dollars," Pollard says, "and I don't know when I can pay you back." His request is a challenge, to see just how far he can go.

Howard stands up, puts a hand on Pollard's shoulder, looks Pollard in the eyes, hands him a twenty dollar bill, and says, "That's fine."

He says, without words, It's okay that you need ten dollars. It's okay that you don't know when you can pay me back. And when you ask for ten dollars, I'll give you twenty.

Acceptance flows from what in Shadow Work we call the Sovereign part of us. The scene between Pollard and Howard comes closer to the Sovereign blessing exercises we do in Shadow Work than any scene in any film that comes to mind. And the impact on Pollard is immediate and astounding.


If you have a chance to see the DVD, check out the director's commentary. Seabiscuit's director, Gary Ross, discusses the film with his friend and fellow director Steven Soderbergh, and they talk almost exclusively about the characters and the feel of the film. In fact, they keep pausing the movie so they can talk more without being rushed. Now that's what I call a commentary.

Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach, and a writer, based in Evanston, Illinois. Read more about Alyce.


This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in March 2004. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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