"A Provocative Reminder"
The biblical author of the Book of Ecclesiastes states, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong . . . but time and chance happen to them all (9:11).” This verse is interesting, especially in light of the life and death of Steve Prefontaine, the American track star of the 1972 Olympics who died in a tragic car accident in 1975, one year before he could compete in the 1976 Olympics.
WITHOUT LIMITS is a well-written character study of Prefontaine. The movie details Pre’s relationship with his long-time coach and friend Bill Bowerman. Actors Billy Crudup and Donald Sutherland play the two men, respectively.
When Bowerman signs Pre to the track team at the University of Oregon in 1969, Pre’s racing philosophy clashes with the silver-haired coaching legend, who even makes special lightweight track shoes for his players. Bowerman wants Pre to pace himself during each race, but Pre believes that the demands of excellence require all or nothing from him. Doing anything less than that would be cowardly and even somehow immoral, Pre feels.
Bowerman helps Pre improve his physical technique, but Pre ignores the coach’s advice to stop trying to be the front runner in every race. As their mutual admiration for one another grows, Pre becomes a star and lives up to the potential that he showed in high school. In the 1972 Olympics at Munich, he runs one of the most incredible, gutsy races in the 5,000 meters that anyone ever saw, but comes in fourth. Disappointed mostly in himself, the self-pitying Pre starts to hit the comeback trail when his life is tragically cut short by a car accident, one year before the next Olympics.
During the movie, Pre also struggles in his relationship to the girl he loves, a devout Roman Catholic named Mary Marckx, played by Monica Potter. More often than not, Mary rebuffs Pre’s cocky attitudes about women and encourages his racing talent. They have an on-again, off-again romance. At one point, Pre expresses admiration for Mary’s faith, saying it is a miracle for anyone to believe in anything at all. “There’s always someone trying to talk you out of something you believe in,” he adds.
WITHOUT LIMITS is at its best when it is portraying and commenting on Pre’s complex relationships with Bowerman and Mary and Pre’s philosophy of running and of life. In addition, it makes the sport of track and field exciting, including the pomp and circumstances surrounding it, though the sport scenes do not seem as entertaining as other, slightly better sport movies, such as BREAKING AWAY or ROCKY.
Rated PG-13 and containing some foul language and sexual situations, this mostly pagan movie also raises some provocative issues of faith, as noted in Pre’s relationship with Mary. Co-writer and director Robert Towne artfully combines this theme with the movie’s tribute to Pre’s philosophy of racing and life, especially Pre’s desire for excellence at all times and his ability to endure pain. Pre’s relationship with Coach Bowerman plays a key role in this issue. “I tried to change him,” Bowerman narrates in the beginning of the movie. “He ran like he was trying to get away from something.”
Bowerman even gives Pre advice about his relationship with Mary. When Pre asks Bowerman about the close relationship with his own wife, Bowerman replies that he doesn’t understand her, but says, “I believe in her.” Ironically, Bowerman and Pre say they don’t understand each other, either, but it is clear that they believe in one another’s desire for excellence, though they at first have different policies about how to achieve it. Later on, Bowerman says that Pre tested “the limits of the human heart.” How he won mattered more to him than winning, the coach says. In saying all of these things in WITHOUT LIMITS, Bowerman indicates that it is Pre who changed him, not he who changed Pre.
Of course, there is another man in history who combined the ideas of excellence, faith, pain, endurance, and running in a work of art. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament says in 12:1-3: “Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Despite the moral and theological problems of WITHOUT LIMITS, perhaps it is good that movies like this remind us that life is fleeting and so that we should stick to the one thing that endures above all else, the Work of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Redemption.
(Pa, B, C, LLL, V, SS, A, D, Pa, FR, M) Pagan hedonistic worldview with moral & Christian elements, including prayer, Bible-reading & references to one's faith, regarding a key supporting character & a minor supporting character; 25 obscenities & 5 profanities, mostly strong ones; fatal car crash, man cuts toe & documentary scenes from terrorist attack on 1972 Olympics; implied fornication & one brief obscured scene where couples tries unique sexual position; alcohol use; smoking; pagan attitudes about sexual immorality; one minor reference to origin of Nike Shoes being named after the Goddess of Victory; and, male college student takes advantage of women willing to surrender their virginity.