Chariots of Fire Psychological Review

My View

            Set in the era of English aristocrats and rich men, Chariots of Fire is about a team of university students with the dreams of winning the 1924 Olympics and being the best athletes in the country. The film focuses on two main characters – Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams.  Eric is a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God whereas Harold, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice. Both crossed paths competitively during the day when they had the race. Eric won and, Harold lost and plunged into despair that Sybil (Harold’s girlfriend) cannot get him out of the despair. The characters in the film showed dynamic needs based on the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. They are either intrinsically motivated or extrinsically motivated for their need to win in the Olympics.

            Based on the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there are five needs which are the physiological needs, security needs, social needs, esteem needs and self-actualising needs. However, he revised it with the expansion of cognitive needs, aesthetic needs and transcendence needs. The first two needs of physiological and security needs are met as the characters are of the upper class of citizens whereby their physiological needs such as food, drink and shelter are met as well as their safety needs for survival.  Eric showed high level of social needs whereas Harold runs for esteem needs. Furthermore, Coach Sam Mussabini showed part of the highest needs on the hierarchy (the expanded hierarchy model) that is transcendence needs. Their needs are further discussed below.


1. Eric Liddell


            In the scene after Eric ran in the friendly 200 yards race easily in Scotland, Eric acknowledged his pleasure in running. However, his sister is not supportive of his interest in running as it will disrupt his missionary works. Fortunately, his father was supportive of his passion in running with the statement, “You can praise the Lord by peeling a spud if you peel it to perfection. Run in His name and let the world stand back in wonder”. As can be seen when Eric runs, he runs for the love of God and wants to be closer to God as he mentioned through running he can feel God’s presence and that liberates him.

            He thinks that God gave him such ability for a purpose – he explained “I believe God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure. To win is to honor him”, with that he pursued his running and ultimately won in the Olympics. Maslow’s needs of belongingness and love (social needs) is what portrayed by Eric, the love and belongingness of God. With that, he continued in his running pathway alongside with his missionary work of preaching God to his fans. He was both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated because he was driven by the internal passion for running and by the external drive of being close to God.


2. Harold Abrahams


            Harold is of Jew descent and as of the era of after World War I, Jews are deemed as the low class people. With that, one of Harold’s reason to run, to be the best amongst the best and win the Olympics is to use it as a ‘weapon’ against anti-Semitism. As can be showed in the Caius college scene when Harold was registering of his presence into the college and the porter patronised him by saying a Semitic remark. Harold was defensive about it and counter back telling he is the son of a financier (a role that is respected and of upper class). His main reason to run is driven mostly by the esteem needs whereby he wants respect from others (against the Jewish bigotry by the Englishmen) and, status and prestige. Furthermore, he wanted to be the best amongst the best which he is driven intrinsically to master the art of running with the help of Coach Sam and win in the Olympics as a personal achievement.


3.  Coach Sam Mussabini


            Sam’s character did not have much transition on himself. He is motivated to work toward his transcendence needs by fulfilling his expertise as one of the best sprint coaches in England by helping others to achieve self-actualisation in which is Harold as his student.  The transcendence need was fulfilled with Sam coaching Harold in terms of his personal growth in running and worked towards in fulfilling his potential as the best amongst the best runners. That resulted in Harold winning the gold for 200m sprint in the Olympics.  

            Overall, Chariots of Fire is an aesthetically well realised visual imagery of cinematographer with emotionally rich context with the vibrant music playlist. This authentic drama deals directly with issues such as athletic competition, the nature of winning and losing, and the central place of ethics in sports. That human spirit triumphs against adversity.  It is the power on the longing for perfection, the search for meaning, and the struggle for acceptance – all in the name of the art of athletics that is what motivated the characters to be as they are with their needs. Other similar movies that I will recommend that are sport related with similar themes of competition, commitment, sportsmanship and motivation to win are as follow:-

Rocky –

Rounders –

Breaking away –




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