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Movie Discussion Resource

The Cup

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.
Genre: Australian drama
Rating: PG (Mild themes and coarse language)
Length: 106 minutes
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Stephen Curry, Daniel McPherson, Alice Parkinson, Bill Hunter, Shaun Micallef, Kate Bell, Jodi Gordon  and Colleen Hewitt
Director: Simon Wincer (Phar Lap, The Man From Snowy River)

PosterBrief synopsis
A simple, respectful heartwarming and inspirational true story of Damien Oliver’s (Curry) win on Irish horse Media Puzzle in the Melbourne Cup – the race that stops the nation – a week after his only brother Jason (McPherson) died in a racing incident. The brothers’ father, Ray, had also died in a racing accident under similar circumstances when they were children. His brother’s death throws him into turmoil, and this is what the film explores, especially his family relationships. Can he risk riding in the Melbourne Cup, when his mother (Hewitt) has lost two of her family to the sport? What is the impact on his wife (Gordon) when the dangers of the sport are cast so glaringly into the spotlight? Should he ride in the Melbourne Cup, or not? His grief tests his own resolve, as well as the faith of the Irish Trainer (Gleeson). Australians know the outcome of this week of turmoil, and Oliver’s win in 2002 captivated the nation. It has long since passed into Australian sporting legend. The film itself is a solid retelling of this inspirational story, even if is somewhat pedestrian and the script at times awkward, though the actors do a fine job. Ultimately The Cup is not just a story about horse racing, it’s about triumph over adversity and that inner courage inside all of us.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own story/experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

Australia loves the underdog
Prior to his brother’s death, Damien Oliver was riding high. He was already an acclaimed jockey having won his fourth Racing Victoria Limited Scobie Breasley Medal for riding excellence and the Geelong Cup, seen as a precursor to the Melbourne Cup. But the kind of ‘tortured trial’, protracted soul searching and defeats he experienced in the week between his brother’s death and the Melbourne Cup made his emotionally fragile and vulnerable. He was no longer a certainty, and no-one could be sure if his steely resolve and discipline would triumph over grief and sorrow. Discuss the way the ‘underdog’ is part of the fabric of Australian culture with your own examples.

Learning from those who have been in the dark valleys
‘You don’t know what it’s like!’ Grief is entirely personal, and people in the grips of grief sometimes believe no-one can understand their sorrow. People who can share sorrow and grief with others in the same situation, who know what it’s like, can be a great source of comfort, encouragement and even inspiration. The film references the Bali bombing (less than a month before the Melbourne Cup), and explores the influence upon Damien of AFL star Jason McCartney’s (Rodger Corser) heroic behaviour during that incident. What are your own experiences with sorrow and grief and how have you been encouraged by others who know the experience of the psalmist, ‘Even when the way goes through the darkest valley, I will not fear, for you walk at my side’ (Psalm 23.4).

Biblical themes
In one sense, the biblical narrative is a series of potentially overwhelming defeats, and at other times such difficult circumstances that one wonders how the people could survive emotionally, spiritually and physically. There are countless stories that come to mind including the exodus experience of being enslaved, the escape and subsequent pursuit, the wandering in the desert for a long period of time, invasions, occupation, persecution etc. In the midst of such circumstances, the Hebrew people, the early Jewish Christians and the fledgling Christian church gave testimony to the experience of God in their midst, who did not abandon them but was known even in the ‘darkest valley’ of their experiences. This knowledge and experience was enough to sustain the people’s courage and endurance, and to enable them to overcome the incredible odds. What biblical stories come to mind of the ‘underdog’, or those in desperate circumstances? What are your own stories of endurance despite the circumstances and who or what has helped you or inspired you?

Whereto from here…..
Is this film a welcome return to good old fashioned story telling brought to life in a movie, or does it feel a bit like a return to an era that no longer carries the story effectively? How have movies changed since the director’s foray into Australian iconic stories such as Phar Lap and The Man from Snowy River? Has the audience become ‘sophisticated’ and/or grown used to CGI (computer generated images) in movies which work on the big screen, or has the audience lost interest in the art of being attentive to a story told with less of the ‘effects’. Could be an interesting discussion point…….!

This discussion could also be a segue into a discussion about the biblical narrative and the way we ‘do’ church, with similar points to focus conversation.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 25th September 2010 Pilgrim Uniting Church
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