"Grace and Healing"
What You Need To Know:
Robert Redford directs the film adaptation of the popular novel, THE HORSE WHISPERER, a tender, heart-wrenching story of loss and restoration. Primarily photographed in Montana, it is a story about a cowboy who patiently works with an injured horse and nurses the emotionally and physically injured rider, a young girl, back to health.
The story begins with 13-year-old newcomer Scarlett Johansson playing a New York girl named Grace. One frosty winter morning, Grace takes her horse Pilgrim out for a ride in the snow. She is joined by her pal and neighbor, also on horseback. While trying to ride up a steep bank, the horses slip and fall backward in the snow and out onto a road. A heavy truck approaches and the girls have little time to react. Grace’s friend and her horse are instantly struck and killed. Pilgrim rears up and is struck, sustaining severe injuries. Likewise, Grace is severely injured and lands in the hospital. The animal control unit calls Grace’s mother Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas) and asks her if Pilgrim can be put down. Annie says no, it is Grace’s decision, but Grace is recovering and can’t make a decision.
Within a few weeks, Grace recovers sufficiently to leave the hospital, but the doctors have to amputate her right leg at the knee. Annie and Grace’s father Robert try to go on with their lives, but Grace’s inner wounds are as severe as her physical injuries. Grace refuses to return to school, which only aggravates Annie and Robert’s already tenuous marriage. Grace goes to see Pilgrim, but is horrified at what she sees ñ a horse with severe wounds that acts frightened and angry. Annie sees an article about a man in Montana named Tom Booker who treats problem horses. Thinking that it would be best not only to take her daughter away from the proximity of the accident but also to take some time away from her husband, Annie packs up Grace and Pilgrim and drives cross country to Montana to meet Mr. Booker.
On the way, Grace fusses and complains the whole time. There, Mr. Booker is a little taken aback that the women crossed the country all alone. Yet, he agrees to look at Pilgrim, and so starts a long, arduous rehabilitation program with the goal of calming Pilgrim and Grace down enough so that she can ride him again. For several months, Grace and Annie live in the Booker guest home, eat with the Booker family and get to know them very well. Things go so well, in fact, that Grace opens up to Tom and tells him the story of the horrible accident, and Annie develops a deep crush on him.
The idyllic world of the ranch is broken when Robert pays a visit. Though Annie is glad to see him, she wonders if she should return home with him, or declare her independence and stay on the ranch with Tom. After more training, a little persuasion and a lot of patience, Grace attempts to ride Pilgrim again with her adoring father watching. As the work seems to be closing at an end, Robert and Annie discuss their differences and a choice is made that will dramatically affect their future.
THE HORSE WHISPERER is filled with grace, love, patience, and sacrifices to achieve personal healing. It is filled with examples and behaviors of health and Christ-likeness. Life is mentioned as a gift from God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is even preached on the radio as Anne and Grace travel to Montana. At the Booker home, before the meal, Tom’s brother Frank (Chris Cooper) offers a prayer of thankfulness for the food and for the presence of Grace and Annie. The Booker family is more than generous with their time and love. Annie and Frank’s wife Diane (Dianne Wiest) form a very close friendship. Tom teaches Grace to drive. The pain of Grace and Pilgrim is handled with tender loving care from all adults concerned.
Everything is not all ponies and peaches, however, because drama needs conflict. The conflict in this case is Annie’s sexual attraction to Tom. She is a married woman and, on one occasion, they share a dance and an adulterous kiss. Both declare their desire for one another, and Tom states that he is divorced because he fell in love with the wrong woman. He tells Annie that he used to pray every night, but now he has stopped, which may explain his forwardness and lack of restraint towards Annie. The good news is that Annie makes right decisions about this attraction. Thus, THE HORSE WHISPERER is the anecdote and perfect response to THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY and THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Likewise, Robert realizes his wife’s attraction toward Tom and treats her not with instant contempt and misunderstanding, but with tenderness and respect, offering her the opportunity to make the right decision and not forcing her to stay with him against her will.
Some people may be concerned that the horse whisperer is a sort of enchanter who mystically cures a horse’s ailments. This is not true, or at least it isn’t explained in the movie that way. Tom does take great time and care with Pilgrim, even waiting out in a field with him for several hours before Pilgrim decides to come home. We never see him whisper in the horse’s ear, or perform any unorthodox behavior with the horse.
THE HORSE WHISPERER ranks as one of the best films this year. An expertly crafted movie from an American film icon, it is a sensitive, beautiful, honorable movie with lots to recommend it and a great deal of integrity and grace. It deserves not only to be seen but also to be honored.