I may have only seen this once since the first time seeing it on the big screen, and I really don’t know why but for its sheer length and weight for what, at a first glance, seems like a relatively simple and almost corny tale to tell (I mean: it’s literally about “getting back in the saddle”, lol …)
I’ve written about how much I love the girl and horse subgenre, possibly more than any other kind of movie, and what I realised to my surprise watching this one this time is, it might be the best of the bunch, because of the huge void it places between the girl and the horse that only makes their bond more beautiful in the end. It might sound silly that I’d forget such a thing, but I’d forgotten just how much the horse features here. I remembered the horror of the accident at the start, but I forgot about the central part of the set-up which is that this movie is about two desperately wounded and broken creatures (“Who’s ever gonna want me like this??”) finding their feet again.
It’s one of those movies that is all about a person trying not to cry, and finally finding the moment where they find they can. It’s interesting that the episode of This American Life I listened to last night had a sorta-similar story to that of Grace here feeling responsible for her friend Judith’s death. It doesn’t get much more painful than that feeling, I think; that old cliché, “It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.” Some clichés are clichés ‘cos they work.
“We need to show Pilgrim how to help you get on. ‘cos y’see, there’s a point where neither of you is gonna need me anymore. And we’re there. I’m not asking.”
Then there’s the other characters. I love how communication (or the lack thereof; or even the transcendence over the verbal kind) is conveyed in the movie. At times even the humans appear somewhat horselike and animal in their behaviours to one another, it reminds me of the shrieking towards the end of The Birds when certain characters almost seem to be becoming avian. I haven’t read the novel but I imagine that the great chunks of silence here are explained by way of beautifully descriptive inner monologues etc. Rather than try and fill those out in dialogue or cut them entirely, the screenwriter and then Redford choose to simply allow those silences to speak for themselves, the camera lingering on a glare, a stare, a turn of the head slowed down by doubleframing. It’s a huge reason why the movie winds up so long but I think it’s wonderful that Redford had the liberty to do that. As anyone who knows me will know, I’m all about silences; I couldn’t possibly hold this movie’s use of them against it.
If nothing else, it also happens in my opinion to be by far the best work Scarlett Johansson has ever done. It’s really like the book, the movie, the character were made for her.