Ossus Library Index Drama Movie Index

THE HORSE WHISPERER

Directed by Robert Redford (1998, Touchstone Pictures)
Starring Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Niell, Dianne Wiest, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Cooper

A woman brings her injured horse and daughter to the home of a man gifted with horses, and finds herself experiencing a rebirth.

 

 

3 stars

April 8th, 2001 on TV

 
    An entertaining and quite beautiful story about healing and rebirth, but I think the focus was kept on the wrong person.

Easily the best part of the movie was the opening scene, where two adolescent girls riding horses are hit by a giant truck. The girls were chatting, talking about boys and taking shortcuts through the snowy woods. All is peaceful. And then one of the horses slips, and plows into the second one, and both horses and the two girls, pinned to their rides, are sliding down the slope into a snow-covered road. Before they can react, a truck comes around the corner, and can't brake in time. Honking its loud horn, it tries to get the girls to move, but one of them is unconscious, and her horse is injured. They are hit head-on. One girl and her horse is killed. Grace, the survivor, loses a leg. Her horse, Pilgrim, is severely injured, and is also traumatized. He should be put down, out of suffering, but Grace's mother can't do it. The use of slow motion and clips from one point of view to the other was really well done. It made us feel for the people, the horses, and even the truck driver. It was wonderful.

But the story of rebirth and healing is not limited to Grace and Pilgrim. Those two are in desperate need of attention, but they both want nothing to do with the outside world. Grace's mother, Annie, is the one who gets the much of the treatment in this movie. Annie is a senior editor for a fashion magazine, and she has left the rest of the world to immerse herself in her work. Her marriage is falling apart, even though Robert, her husband, still loves her enough, he thinks, for both of them. Her relationship with Grace has also fallen to the wayside, so that Grace is bitter, and turns everything Annie says back to her in a sarcastic and vehement way.

Annie decides that Grace is the problem (it can't be herself, anyway, can it...), so she tries to heal the girl by healing the horse. They take a long drive from their home in New York to Montana, where lives a man who was profiled in an equestrian magazine as someone who can speak with horses on instinct, a horse whisperer. 

Of course, Tom is not happy to see them drop in on his life. Grace is not happy that she's being forced into this long drive with her mother, and Pilgrim is just plain unhappy. Annie feels under- appreciated.

Robert Redford does a good job as the at-first reluctant horse psychologist, who gets won over by the persistence of Annie and the love that Grace has (but refuses to show) for Pilgrim. He knows how to treat Annie, pitting strength against strength, and is not afraid to confront her and tell her that she is wrong. He also knows that Grace is torn up inside, and he knows how to start the healing process. In a very funny scene, he has Grace drive his pickup truck "until you run out of road" despite the fact that she has an artificial right leg and is way underage. 

And all this time, while he is healing the daughter, and showing the mother that there is a more fulfilling life than busying around the big city and never seeing your family, he is able to gain Pilgrim's trust. The scenes with the horse are mesmerizing. The scenery is beautiful, and Pilgrim acts naturally, the way a horse would when confronted with the unknown. 

Unfortunately, the daughter and horse take a back seat to Annie. The story is actually about Annie's search for purpose in her life. It can't be found in her relationship with her husband, nor with her daughter. But she finds it in Tom, and they fall in love. 

There were hints given in the story that I thought could have been explored more effectively than the aspects that were shown. Grace is attracted to the strength that Tom exhibits when dealing with her mother. She is amazed when he starts to get through to Pilgrim, and she is able to open up to him, finally telling him how it felt when the truck was bearing down on her and how it felt to lose a friend. The subtext, shown only in the way the young actress looks at the man, tells me that Grace was becoming infatuated with Tom. But it was never explored. We see a tiny bit of the jealousy come out when Annie goes riding with Tom, but we are not sure if it's because she's jealous of her mother, or upset because she loves her father so much. Joanne, who read the book several weeks ago, says that the jealousy is much more pronounced in the novel than it was on screen.

Pilgrim could have also been used more effectively, in getting Grace to deal with her tragedy. But the writers decided to focus on Annie, which might have been okay with another actress. I never thought Kristin Scott Thomas did a good job of communicating Annie's vulnerable side. I have come to the conclusion that I can't stand her as an actor, especially after Random Hearts and her performance here. 

The film progressed at a nice pace, and never really felt as long as it was. The scenery was beautiful, the scenes with the horse were great, and the actress playing Grace did a wonderful job. Robert Redford was also very good, showing us the hard and satisfying life his character was living, and that attracted Annie. They succeed in healing everybody by the end, as Grace's father arrives to visit. Tom decides it is time to take the final step, and has Grace mount Pilgrim. 

The ending was a mix-up, full of conflicted character moments that felt sudden and jerky. Annie has Tom set up the horses for another, last ride, as she decides to return to New York, instead of staying in Montana with him. As he is setting the saddles, she drives off. Joanne says that this ending is so very different from the book as to make it part of a completely different movie! As sloppy as it was, it makes a little more sense than the book's ending does, though.

So call it a nice, quiet outing, with not too much happening, along a peaceful countryside, with some conflicted characters. It flowed very naturally until near the end, but even so, I could have used less of Annie sulking around, and more healing from Grace, who I thought could have been a more interesting character.
 
   

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