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Film / The Horse Whisperer

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The Horse Whisperer is the name of a 1995 novel by Nicholas Evans and of a 1998 film adaptation of it. The latter was directed by Robert Redford. The main stars were Redford himself (directing himself for the first time onscreen), Kristin Scott Thomas, Kate Bosworth and Scarlett Johansson.

The film begins on a winter morning, with teenagers Grace MacLean (Johansson) and Judith (Bosworth) taking their horses for a ride. An accident involving an icy slope and a truck results in Judith and her horse being instantly killed. Grace and her horse, Pilgrim, survive but are badly injured. Grace loses part of her leg in the subsequent surgery.

Some time later, the duo have recovered as well as expected. Their bodies are healthy, but the resulting trauma is everpresent. Grace is bitter and withdrawn, Pilgrim wild and uncontrollable. Annie MacLean (Scott Thomas) senses that the two will have to recover together. She calls for Tom Booker (Redford), the titular horse whisperer.


The story explores both the recovery and the mutual attraction developed between the two adults. Which is confusing for them as Annie is still married and Tom is recovering from a divorce.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Several things, but perhaps most notably is how Annie and Tom in the film never do more than kiss, while in the book they sleep together several times.
  • And Starring: Scarlett Johansson receives an "Introducing" credit. It wasn't her first movie (it was her seventh).
  • Animal Metaphor: Pilgrim, the horse who went mad after the accident, symbolizes Grace's difficulties to have a social life after the loss of her leg. The training of Pilgrim parallels her mental recovery.
  • Arcadia: In Montana, the people have a simple life. Two New-Yorkers and a horse recover from their emotional pains there.
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  • An Arm and a Leg: Robert and Annie MacLean's daughter loses a leg because of a horse accident. Which leads to her suffering from depression.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: As The Other Wiki explains, both the book and film's final session with Pilgrim being hobbled, roped and forced on the ground, followed by Grace riding him and the two being miraculously cured is not much rooted in reality, and would rather have been a very dangerous situation. The same article also points out that a horse going through an accident such as Pilgrim did might develop a fear for vehicles, roads and/or steep slopes, but would likely not have a complete change in personality and manner as he does. The Pilgrim in the book and film behaves more like a horse having been exposed to long-term animal abuse than simply having been in an accident.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: When she gives comments about a project of magazine cover, Annie start saying everything is perfect, then she says it is dull, so it has to be scrapped.
  • Betty and Veronica: Annie (Archie) has to choose between her husband (Betty), who is a Nice Guy, a successful lawyer and a city-dweller like her, and Tom (Veronica), a rancher who does not want to leave the country and who is generally sarcastic with her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The book and film have two very different versions: in the book, Tom Booker dies while saving Grace from a ferocious wild mustang. Annie later finds out she's pregnant, and while she can't tell if Robert or Tom is the father, the pregnancy helps her back on her feet and healing the relationship between her, Grace and Robert (though she and Robert separates). In the film, Tom stays alive, but Annie is unable to hurt her family and leaves while Tom watches after her from horseback on a hill.
  • By "No", I Mean "Yes": When Diane asks if Annie was fired, Annie denies it at first, and then admits, "Yeah, I was fired."
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Grace confronts her mother at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. She tells her that she treats everybody (including her daughter and husband) as her employees.
  • The City vs. the Country: Grace MacLean and her mother are from New York. They settle in a ranch in Montana. Grace is forced to go there by her mother. Progressively, they both start enjoying the life there.
  • Cool Horse: Pilgrim. Even if he is badly injured, Joe Booker, Tom's nephew, acknowledges that it was a magnificent horse.
  • Cry into Chest: Grace does this twice. First, after a bitter argument with her mother (after it's revealed she tried to ride a horse again without asking anyone's permission), and Annie is leaving, Grace starts crying and asking aloud, "Who's going to want me?", at which point Annie comes back and hugs her as Grace continues to cry. The second time, it's to Tom when Grace finally tells him about the accident.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Annie is a cold and successful businesswoman in the beginning. Her daughter tells her that she treats everybody (including her daughter and husband) as her employees. Tom Booker will soften her cold demeanor during the course of the film.
  • Determinator: Annie is determined to get Tom Booker to break Pilgrim in. When he rejects her proposal on the phone, she decides to go from New York to Montana by car with the horse and her daughter, even if her daughter and her husband do not agree with this plan.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Pilgrim, Grace's horse, goes mad because of the shock of the accident.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: In the book, Annie commits adultery because she's fallen in love with Tom Booker. The two of them are portrayed as nothing but sympathetic, despite the fact that Annie's deeply distressed daughter Grace is involved. Annie's husband is a nice guy and devoted family man. Tom dies in order to save Grace's life in what could be construed as an act of Redemption Equals Death.
  • Hidden Depths: Tom Booker is not just a rancher and horse trainer from Montana. At some point, he reveals that he studied engineering, that he lived in Chicago and that he fell in love with a violinist because of the way she played Dvorak.
  • Interrupted Suicide: In the book, Grace runs away on Pilgrim and decides to burn down a cabin with herself inside when she learns about her mom and Tom. However, she ends up being surrounded by a herd of wild mustang with an aggressive stallion, with Tom coming to her rescue and sacrificing himself in the process.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Robert MacLean tells his wife Annie that he feels that she is unsure about their relationship. He tells her that he will not force her to go back home if she does not love him any more.
  • Mating Dance: There is a very sensual dance between Tom Booker and Annie. Her husband is in the same room, but he does not pay attention.
  • Mercy Kill: Subverted. After the accident, the veterinary recommends to kill Pilgrim, who is badly injured. Annie rejects this proposal.
  • Nice Guy: Robert MacLean is depicted as a good husband and father. See also I Want My Beloved to Be Happy.
  • Noun Verber
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Tom Booker. In the book, Tom Booker throws himself at a murderous wild stallion to solve Annie's choice between staying with her husband or going with Tom. Really, he does. In the film, it simply ends with Annie leaving and Tom looking after her from a hill, alive and well.
  • Scenery Porn: Everything in Montana.
  • There Are No Therapists: Zigzagged. On the one hand, it is hard to believe no one would think of getting Grace a therapist to help her deal with the fact her best friend was killed and she thinks she's responsible; on the other hand, it could be argued the trip to Montana itself is a form of therapy.
  • Waking Non Sequitur: Subverted; the first thing Grace says when she wakes up in the hospital is "Judith".
  • Who's Your Daddy?: In the epilogue of the book, Annie has a baby, and is unable to tell for sure whether Robert or Tom is the father, though it is implied to be Tom's.