Apparently I need to read the book. If there's symbolism that's less subtle than a slap in the face, I miss it. I kept getting the feeling that I was missing a lot in this movie.
A girl and her horse are in a terrible accident. The parents are so shaken and overwhelmed by the injury to their daughter that they postpone the decision to put the traumatized horse down. When the family finally sees the extent of the injuries, the veterinarian again counsels putting the horse down. But the take-charge mother researches horse injuries and training in order to make herself an instant expert. She contacts a trainer in Montana (the family is in NYC) who brushes her off. But she's determined and hauls the horse to the trainer and convinces him to take a look.
A horse whisperer trains in a much more subtle way than is usually depicted in the movies. The traditional western trainer pretty much throws a saddle on the animal and breaks it to obey. A horse whisperer trains by gaining the horse' trust. Basically, the trainer is experienced enough at reading a horse that he can tailor the challenges that he presents to the horse in order to increase its confidence and gain its trust. And a large part of the training is teaching the horse' owners how to handle themselves around the animal. My mom says this is closer to how Indians trained their horses.
The family is living a stereotypical big-city lifestyle. Two successful career parents, the father a lawyer, the mother a magazine editor. One child in her early teens. It's a family that's on the verge of becoming distant to each other. The trauma of the accident could easily tear them apart. But the mother, a very goal-oriented person, decides that she can fix things if she can fix the horse and get her daughter back on him. And she drags everyone else along towards that goal.
Even with the long running time, the movie had to condense the story a lot. I'm not sure they showed the passage of time sufficiently. I'm still not sure exactly how much time they spent in Montana.
One symbolic scene was a little too blunt. Near the end, they get the girl back on the horse. They don't first put her on another calm horse so she can relearn her balance. And they don't first put a healthy, experienced rider on the problem horse to see how he'll respond. Instead, the injured girl goes right on the once-crazed horse. I found that a bit too much of a stretch. I'm sure it was meant to be more poignant.
Also, after all the subtle training, at the end they tie one if the horse' feet up. At the time, I had never heard of that training method, but my mom says she's seen it used before. I found it jarring and out of place. I'm still not sure what the purpose was. They implied that it was to teach the horse to kneel so the girl could climb on. They also implied that after a single session that the horse would perform this trick easily for the girl. Again, that seems out of place. I've seen really little kids ride Saddlebreds (a very tall breed) and they find ways to climb aboard without the horse kneeling. Far simpler than teaching the horse to kneel/lie down would be to build a four-foot platform to bring the girl up to stirrup height.
One final note, apparently the ending to the book was completely nonsensical. The movie changed the ending to something more palettable.
I went to the movie with my mom and several of her horse friends. They all loved it. My roommate's girlfriend, also a horse person, loved it. His only comment was that it was very long. My other roommate loved the book and is really looking forward to the movie. So this seems to be a grand slam chick-flick. Personally, I thought it was well-done, but it didn't really grab me. On my brother's Total Movie Value Scale I give it Matinee.
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