The Turin Horse (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Turin Horse (2011)

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During the average day, I spend almost thirteen hours in front of a computer.  I wake up at 6:30, shower and drive to work in front of a computer, drive home and spend some time feeling my legs hit the pavement, then go back to my computer until midnight.  This has been my routine just about every day since I graduated from school.

I like my life.  I get to reach out and help people on a daily basis rebuild their entire existence, then come home and work on myself.  But it's a routine, in the broadest strokes my life rarely goes beyond the events that build every day.  The light fades away and sometimes I go to sleep thinking, other than the difference of media I've consumed, this day is no different than the last.

But my job is rewarding, satisfying, and requires a connection to other people.  If I had the life of a true hermit, if life's only purpose was to go on sustaining itself, how long would life really last?  Regardless of whether we evolved into appreciating our time here "just because", or because a spiritual deity promised something at the end, most of the people who are reading these words still have a reason to get up in the morning.

Bela Tarr's final film is a sobering reminder that not everyone is this fortunate.  It comes at the end of his career, where he has gone on record that no more films are to follow.  Then I wonder if this is how he felt every day, getting up with a camera, giving orders to his crew, and falling asleep.

There aren't many gateway films into Bela Tarr's career, but those few that exist are tremendous works of art (Werckmeister Harmonies and Damnation, for the uninitiated) which adhere to a specific viewpoint.  You can see Tarr struggling with his humanity early in his career, still trying to build "lives" for his characters, jobs which factor into their personalities in some way.  This is one form of optimistic simplicity, hoping that your career or labor will give you an identity beyond the task at hand.

No such escape is offered in The Turin Horse.  We see people who are so far beyond any means of identification the only thing we have left to connect our lives is the endless cycle.  Tarr is notoriously elusive in what his films "mean", but given his past interviews and writings on the subject, it appears he has finally given into the futility of being alive.  I don't fear we'll be losing him any time soon, it's just far too plausible he's acknowledge his own cycle and decided to represent it.

How he does so is in a series of seemingly never-ending shots of struggle and work.  The opening six minutes are presented in one unbroken take, letting us feel the pressure of the wind and imagine the resistance of the earth, clomping along with the horse and the broken people (Janos Derzsi and Erika Bok) he's carrying.  The horse is still trying, the humans less so.  Their motivation is tied to the horse trying so hard.  But he will die, and what is really left?

Not much.  Or, almost nothing.  Just endless work and pain, recreated by Tarr in long takes of seemingly menial activities, but presented in the film as the basis by which the father and daughter continue to exist.  If they do not farm, they don't have food - if they don't have food, they don't live to farm again tomorrow.  The black and white is an appropriate format because there is only here or there - continue to struggle or go into the unknown.

I am not going to pretend that The Turin Horse is the kind of film to introduce any lover of cinema to.  It is relentlessly punishing in its presentation of daily tasks, almost to the point of bleak absurdity in the face of oblivion.  Those who are not already in sympathy with the languorous pace of Tarr's films will be at a loss unless they enter with a wide array of experience with film.  You have to be prepared for the darkest moments because they stem from the longest part of your day when you realize nothing you do matters and it's only to get to the next moment.

Those who are already fans of Tarr's work will find his most confident film, that he finds that confidence in certain meaninglessness is the point.  The daughter fades in and out of the dust covered fields, the father farts and twiddles away in the home at night, the lights are so hard to stay keep on but illuminate so little, and the horse stands as the only stoic, yet dark, defender against the erosion of the wind.  Then that haunting final shot as neither father nor daughter care enough to even eat as the light they share slowly grows dark.  It is gorgeous, but in the way the sublime is gorgeous, the same way falling into the Grand Canyon may look appealing to some.

I am sad that I will never be writing a new review of any Bela Tarr film.  Even when I started my retrospective, I was not certain Tarr would actually finish The Turin Horse.  Now I'm faced with the prospect of never seeing any work from him again.

I'm satisfied with that, if only because he can go out as strong as he does with The Turin Horse.  It is a pure cinema.  It is a world philosophy distilled into two and a half hours of pure visual and audio philosophy, subject to whatever life experience you bring to it.  Even if the films philosophy of nihilism is not one I agree with, it is one I still respond to.

I love Bela Tarr, and I'm sad to see him go.

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The Turin Horse (2011)

Directed by Bela Tarr.
Screenplay by Bela Tarr and  Laszlo Krasznahorkai.
Starring Janos derzsi and Erika Bok.

Tarr with text

Posted by Andrew

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