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Five things I love about The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

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The good thing about participating in a blogathon is that it often leads you to new places.

A bunch of Swedish movie bloggers decided to write posts about “men who run” and that’s how I ended up watching The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, a classical British movie from 1962.

I chose it after having dismissed a bunch of other alternatives, such as: “Tom Cruise’s ten best running scenes” (too obvious), Chariots of Fire (probably too sleep inducing for me these days, even though I remember that I liked it a lot when I watched it a long time ago) Run Lola Run (she runs so well, but alas, she’s a woman) and The Running Man. I actually gave The Running man a shot, but after five minutes I had had enough of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s underwhelming acting performance. This was probably not good when it came out in the 80s, but at this point it’s really ugly.)

I knew nothing about The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner; it was just a title that came up in a web search that seemed familiar to me.

Looking at the title I imagined that it was mainly about running. Perhaps you’d follow the career of a long distance runner who runs and runs and runs, sacrificing everything, including family and friends, in order to reach his goal, whatever that is – a golden medal, a world record or a championship And then when he’s achieved all that he suddenly stops and asks himself: was it worth it? But actually it’s not that film. Not at all. This is more of a war-between-the-classes movie, but with running.

The plot goes like this: Colin Smith is a young man who comes from poor conditions. When his father dies he starts to do petty crimes in company with a friend. Not to support his family, which perhaps would have been understandable, but more for the fun of it, as an act of defiance against authorities. He’s sent to a reformatory institution for young men where it’s suddenly found that he’s got a talent for running, which could give him a new career. The question is: does he want this?

A bit dated but still good
There are parts of the movie that feel a bit dated. Regardless your political opinion and what background you’re coming from, I think it’s a little hard to relate to this simple, black-and-white view on society, classes, capitalism and work. This kind of rhetoric was probably relevant at the time the movie was made, but for modern eyes, many of the characters feel more like caricatures than like real human beings.

Nevertheless there are a number of things about this film that I love:

1. The very opening, before the text credits appear.
We see Colin from behind, running alone on a road. The voiceover line captures everything that this movie is about, but also what running is about. It will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Running was always a big thing in our family, specially running away from the police. It’s hard to understand. All I know is that you’ve got to run, running without knowing why, through fields and woods. And the winning post’s no end, even though the barmy crowds might be cheering themselves daft. That’s what the loneliness of a long distance runner feels like.”

2. Tom Courtenay in the leading role.
I can’t quite identify or sympathize with this constantly sullen characters, who keeps taking decisions that won’t make his already miserable life any better. He’s somewhat incomprehensible to me, but it’s clear that Tom Courtenay understands him. He’s one with his role.

3. Every scene that includes running.
While he’s style is somewhat inefficient and I’m not entirely convinced that Colin would win any races in real life, there’s such a joy and freedom in them that you’re inspired to go out and run for yourself. Not to win, but to live.

4. The reoccurring theme of And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time (known as Jerusalem).
I’m not entirely sure of what this poem and hymn is supposed to mean in this context, perhaps it’s just the idea of a hope about a change. Whatever it is, I’ve always thought it’s a beautiful song and here you get plenty of opportunities to hear it in various versions.

5. The title,
which comes from the original source of this film, a short story by Alan Sillitoe.
There’s poetry in those words, enhanced by the rhythm and the alliteration of “loneliness” and “long”. According to Wikipedia there are about ten songs in pop culture by various bands who have picked up the title for their songs, among them Iron Maiden, which made a whole song text based on the short story. I’m not surprised. It’s a damned good line.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, UK 1962) My rating: 3,5/5




This post is a part of a blogathon arranged by Filmspanarna, a Swedish community of movie blogs. Here are links to posts on this theme by my fellow bloggers:

In English:

Fredrik on Film

In Swedish:

Except Fear
Fiffis filmtajm
Fripps filmrevyer
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Written by Jessica

July 9, 2014 at 6:00 am