Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Breaking Away (1979)

     Tomorrow, I go back to school. I’m a leader at my college’s freshman orientation, and so I have a week of training, a few days of leading new students around campus, and then classes start again. And I’m pumped. I go to school in another state, a five-hour drive from home, and so I haven’t gotten to see basically any of my friends back at school. However, I remember a year ago, when I was going into my freshman year not knowing anyone. To be honest, that first month of college was really tough. I left behind a lot of friends from my school and my youth group, and I really didn’t want to say goodbye. Today’s movie is dedicated to all of you reading this who feel separated like I did by college. Now, I don’t know how many cycling movies I’ve ever seen, if any, but this is definitely considered one of the best. “Breaking Away” is even one of the best sports movies I’ve ever seen. It’s funny, it’s touching, and it has a great theme of friendship that I’m glad I saw right before I went to college.

     Dennis Christopher (who went on to play runner Charlie Paddock in “Chariots of Fire”, one of my favorite movies) is Dave Stoller, a young man about to turn twenty years old who has an obsession with cycling—particularly with the champion cycling team from Italy. He’s so obsessed with them, in fact, that he tries to be Italian himself. He speaks occasional Italian, calling his parents “Mama” and “Papa”. He blasts Italian opera from his bedroom. And he goes by an Italian alias: Enrico Gismondi. But to most of the neighborhood, he’s not known as Enrico. He’s known as Dave, one of the local “cutters”, basically a young bum. I guess. He doesn’t have a job, and he doesn’t go to college, so his first summer after graduating high school is spent basically sitting around with his friends, hanging out and swimming in the local lake that’s formed in the quarries, where buildings that Dave’s father (Paul Dooley) helped construct have been long demolished.

     His friends aren’t as obsessed with cycling as Dave is, but they get along well. All just out of high school, Mike (Dennis Quaid), Cyril (Daniel Stern), and Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) aren’t sure what to do with their lives, either. But they all are still living in Bloomington, Indiana, the college town of Indiana University, so to all the students there and most of the neighborhood, they are all known as “cutters”. But that doesn’t stop them from interacting with them. Dave falls in love with Kathy (Robyn Douglass), an IU student, and never reveals his real self to her: he introduces himself as Enrico, a foreign exchange student. And unfortunately, she’s smitten with “Enrico”.

     But then something happens that changes Dave’s entire outlook on cycling. The Italian cycling team arrives for a local competition. Dave is excited and joins in the race. But when the Italians see Dave and the fact that he can not only speak to them but also beat them, they cheat the race and knock out Dave’s bike. Dave loses the race and his respect for the Italian cyclists. His mood changes significantly from happy and carefree to depressed and let down. And he finally tells Kathy the truth: he’s not a foreign exchange student; he’s a cutter. She is extremely hurt, having been led to believing this for so long, and Dave feels guilty too.

     But through the summer, Dave and his three friends are always looking out for each other. Moocher is getting married to his high school sweetheart, and the three others are supporting him; Mike tries showing off to the IU male students who have made fun of them by racing them in the lake, and when he starts drowning, the three others rescue him; and when they hear of the IU “Little 500” cycling race, they decide to form a team together. And to make a long story short, by helping each other when one team member loses the strength to make it another lap, their team, the “Cutters”, wins the race. Dave is able to make up with Kathy; he enrolls at Indiana University and there meets a French female foreign exchange student which starts getting into French culture instead.

     This movie is great. It’s one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, particularly with the whole Italian concept. It even leads to one of the funniest lines I’ve ever heard in a movie: when Dave’s mom starts making more Italian food for him, his distressed father complains: “I want some American food! I want French fries!” But one of the best parts about “Breaking Away” is the camaraderie between the four friends. They may not know what they’re doing after high school, but they do know that they’re going to stick together. One day when Mike is complaining about how he’s bored all summer, Cyril reminds him of their friendship:

MIKE: The only thing I’m afraid of is wasting the rest of my life with you guys!

CYRIL: I thought that was the whole plan: that we were going to waste the rest of our lives together.

     And the kind of fellowship that Dave, Mike, Cyril, and Moocher have is the kind of fellowship that God wants for Christians to have with each other. The relationship between Christian friends should be as personal as the fellowship that Christians had in the early church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42. The Apostle Paul also writes in 1 Thessalonians, “Encourage one another and build each other up.” (5:11) And believe me, having good fellowship with believers is extremely important in college. I’m at a Christian university, and so I’m surrounded by neighbors who strive just as I do to live a life of faith, but I think at a secular university, it’s even more important. If you don’t have people supporting you in your walk with Jesus, it’s a lot easier to fall.

     My prayer for you, the reader, is that you will find fellowship with Christians in your life that are able to encourage you as you are able to encourage them. And I pray that if you’re reading this about to enter a new school, a new home, or a new life, that you will make it your goal to find other believers that will strengthen you.

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