Directed by Tony Richardson
Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay) grows more rebellious after his father passes away, and an eventual robbery lands him in a juvenile detention center that doubles as an all-boys boarding school. There he demonstrates an unmatched athletic ability that excites the adults who run the school and offers him special privilege over the other students.
They mention how his speed can carry him far in life, even taking him to the Olympics if he’s so lucky. Colin knows that they only take a liking to him because of what his athletic ability offers them. There is an upcoming race against a sort of rival school, and this will provide for the climactic finish to the film.
The film jumps back and forth between Colin’s boarding school life and the one before, leading up to his incarceration. These time jumps are often motivated by his wandering mind during long, lonely runs through the woods. He uses this time to think about life, to reflect and to cope with the things that trouble him. Watching Colin run is like watching a horse gallop.
He knows, of course, that he is being treated like a racehorse. All of his reflection and memories of past events (many we’ve already seen within the movie) will compel him to throw the final race, the biggest act of rebellion he is capable of.
The adults in this film are the antagonists, and the kids band together like soldiers on the front lines. Even amongst the runners from different schools there is a shared understanding of their common plight. They are ordered around by adults and prison guards, and even Colin’s former life shows the ways in which he felt let down by the adults around him. His father died, and his mother shacked up with a man he loathed. The two of them formed a united front, and Colin and a friend were left to wander around and get into trouble.
There is a great deal of The 400 Blows in this coming of age story. All of the conflict is found in the generational gap between Colin and the people of his parents’ generation, and within a certain amount of unseen comfort (and even affluence, though money is somewhat tight), Colin finds nothing but dissatisfaction. His world and the one of his parents are nothing alike. When his father’s employer mentions that Colin is now the fairy breadwinner following his father’s death, he offers him a job which Colin scoffs at. His concerns and the ones of his parents are nothing alike.
Colin’s sense of malaise is one his parents’ generation never had time for. They survived the war and fought tooth and nail to carve out lives of their own. Colin’s generation didn’t have the same struggle, and having most of their practical needs met led to rising discontent with other areas of life.
The main conflict in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is between Colin and the adults who try to control him and fail to understand him or the kids like him. There are so many of them that you’d think they might wonder if and how the system is failing, but such thoughts are beyond their imagination. All they see is people who won’t fall in line, who refuse to live as they did and do.
Colin’s final decision will be to rebel against this authority system, perhaps making them understand the disconnect in mentality through the disconnect in behavior.
Up Next: Zama (2017), Blaze (2018), Chappaquiddick (2017)