Theme: Beauty; Affliction; Redemption; The Grace of God
Insights: Beauty (Eden)
The opening scenes of the movie, The Horse Whisperer, are filled with a surreal beauty. You are transported into a pristine world as you watch a horse running through drifts of freshly fallen snow. It is a world meant to symbolize Eden. A young girl awakens from her pleasant dream to a brand new day. The beautiful sunrise finds her with her best friend; laughing, singing, and sharing secrets about Prince Charming. The two girls are on the verge of blossoming into womanhood. Everything speaks of innocence and purity as they set out on their early morning ride. Suddenly, without warning there is a terrible fall.
Affliction (The Fall)
Judith's horse slips on a patch of ice causing her to fall off. Before Grace can help her friend, a truck skids into Judith and her horse, killing them both. Grace and her horse, Pilgrim, are seriously injured in the accident. The advice given to Annie, Grace's mother, is simply "Put the horse down. He won't live."
A tragic scene following such beauty is symbolic of man's fall from Eden. This is poignantly captured in the film when they find Pilgrim in a dark tunnel. He symbolizes man as well as the animal kingdom, separated from his master. He is standing alone, horribly wounded, and absolutely terrified (Genesis 3:7-19). His vision is now all distorted and blurred (I Corinthians 13:12). The woman, upon catching sight of him, can only gasp, "Oh Jesus." All that remains in the aftermath of the Fall are broken, shattered lives and relationships.
As a result of the accident, Grace loses part of her leg. After being released from the hospital, she returns to her home in New York City (the world), and makes an unsuccessful attempt to return to school. The world is a hard place for broken lives. It cannot heal a lost and wounded soul. Annie senses that Grace's healing is somehow tied to Pilgrim. She begins to research the horse, their relationship to mankind, and those who handle them. What the narrator says at this point reveals the heart of the movie.
"A million years before man, they grazed the vast empty plains living by voices only they could hear. They first came to know man as the hunted know the hunter. Long before he used horses for his labor, he killed them for their meat. The alliance with man would forever be fragile, for the fear he'd struck into their hearts was too deep to be dislodged. Since that Neolithic moment when horse was first halted, there were those among men who understood this. They could see into the creature's soul and sooth the wounds they found there. The secrets uttered softly into troubled ears. These men were known as the whisperers."
Annie turns to one who has this ability. His name is Tom Booker. Who does this whisperer represent?
The following are quotes from author, Dallas Willard, in which he provides insight to this question and, at the same time, gives a Biblical perspective on humanity. (Quotations from "The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives", HarperCollins 1988, Pages 48&50.)
"As Genesis 1:26 explains, 'And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.' So humankind's job description is clearly stated. We were not designed just to live in mystic communion with our Maker as so often suggested. Rather, we were created to govern the earth with all its living things; and to that specific end, we were made in His Divine likeness."
"It is still true today that the greatest and most admirable power of humans over the animals is not found in those who slaughter or abuse them, but in those who can govern their behavior by speaking to them; by communicating with them. The pen is mightier than the sword because it teaches the deeper dimensions of us and our world. Anyone with a gun can blow the head off a cobra, but to charm it into quiescence with a flute is quite another thing. Since the Gospel narratives, the Genesis account, and other parts of the Bible indicate that God rules by speaking, we see once again how the presence of the imago Dei is active in our job description. In the same manner as God - by speaking, by communicating - we are to rule over our "subjects". And in our relationship with other people, the same manner holds true. Governance by a person, whether over people or animals, is at its best when the outcome is harmony, understanding, and love; and at its best when those governed experience "rule" as merely doing what they would want to do anyway."
Tom Booker is the Christ figure in this movie. He is the "last Adam" (I Corinthians 15:45); one who can see into a creature's soul and heal the wounds found there.
The word "pilgrim" means specifically, "One who travels to some holy place as a devotee". A pilgrimage is defined as "the action of journeying, especially of a long weary journey as to a shrine." Annie, Grace, and Pilgrim now set out on a pilgrimage. Annie is seeking to find the man she believes can help them. They leave the East (a picture of the world), broken in body, devoid of relationship, destitute in spirit. As they travel westward, one of the themes of the movie, the grace of God, is revealed in two separate radio broadcasts. The first time all we hear are the words "rejuvenated in the grace of the Lord; washed" (Titus 3: 5). Only the grace of God can repair these damaged lives.
The simmering mother-daughter battle finally erupts as Annie pulls into the historic Little Bighorn Battlefield. Finding the gates closed and distraught by her daughter's accusations, she leaves the car and walks to the monument overlooking the battlefield cemetery. Here, she is totally overwhelmed and reaches her breaking point. Until now, she has functioned as the one in total control, the one who has all the answers. Now she joins Pilgrim and Grace in their brokenness. Now she is ready for healing.
Continuing westward toward Montana and Big Sky Country, the landscape changes and is now covered with snow, as if to signify a return to Eden. The radio crackles again, "He had an epiphany; Paul had been transformed by the grace of God. He was a new creation in Christ," (Galatians 1:15, Acts 22: 6-21). This announcement reveals how the grace of God is received, by becoming a new creation in Christ. It is followed by a beautiful shot of the sky, with the glory of God shining down. Immediately they arrive at a crossroads where there are no signs. Tom Booker will later tell them, "There are plenty of signs, just not any printed ones." They have reached their destination. They have reached a holy place.
The Healing of Pilgrim
The scenes of Tom Booker working with Pilgrim are some of the most powerful and beautiful in the movie. At their first meeting, Pilgrim is all covered with caked on mud. He is scarred, wild, and terrified. He is a symbol of fallen humanity (Isaiah 64:6-7). The first thing Tom Booker does is to make eye contact with Pilgrim. He can see into the wounded soul of the horse.
In another scene Pilgrim, startled by Annie's cell phone, bolts, knocking Tom down as he runs away. Booker follows just so far and then begins his patient wait. He waits for hours until finally Pilgrim comes walking slowly back to him. This is one of the most touching scenes in the film. It reveals the long-suffering patience of God the Father, and how He waits for His children to return (Joel 2:12-13).
The Healing of Grace
In order to restore Grace's heart, Tom knows he must take her back to the place of wounding. He has won her trust and confidence by treating her with respect and dignity. He has required her to come out of her fear and insecurity (i.e. driving the truck). When she is ready, he listens to her recounting the day of the accident. Then he whispers to her what her soul needs to hear:
"You didn't do anything wrong." - Getting rid of false guilt.
"Don't you disappear." - Get rid of your anger and bitterness.
"Pilgrim loved you so much. - You are loved.
He was trying to protect you."
The Healing of Annie
There are many metaphors that describe how God relates to His people; potter/clay, shepherd/sheep, master/servant, father/child, etc. Perhaps the most difficult for us to comprehend is that of the Beloved (Song of Songs). This is how Tom Booker comes to restore Annie's heart. Annie (which means grace) needs healing as much as Pilgrim and Grace do. She was the daughter of a diplomat, consequently she never had a "home". Her father's death when she was twelve was the wounding of her heart. Her heart is so shut down in the opening scenes of the movie that when she is told about Grace's accident all she can manage to say is "Which leg?". We see a transformation of Annie while she is living at the ranch. It is simply the outward expression of what is happening to her heart as she lives in the presence of love.
The movie's climax comes in a scene where Grace and Pilgrim are restored to one another. Annie's husband, Robert, has arrived unexpectedly. Tom Booker realizes the time of healing is over. One night he goes to Pilgrim and simply says, "There is something you have to do tomorrow." The next day all are assembled to watch him work with Pilgrim. As the tension increases for everyone watching, we see Tom take Pilgrim down. Why is he doing this? He is taking Pilgrim back into his wound just as he did Grace.
It is in the wounds of our lives that false messages are imparted to us. Just as fear, guilt, and anger were given to Grace, Pilgrim also received false messages. Tom knows that horse and rider must go back to that moment in order to be truly healed. With Pilgrim lying on his side, Tom rubs and soothes the horse's scars. Then he calls Grace and has her do the same. The moment of truth arrives as he tells Grace to get on Pilgrim's back. As she shrinks back, he tells her, "Trust me one more time." What follows is an emotional, heartwarming scene where both Grace and Pilgrim by trusting in Tom are restored to one another.
Annie with her heart reawakened is restored not only to Grace but to her husband Robert, as well. Knowing she cannot remain in this special place, she chooses to return to her home. The movie closes with Tom Booker riding his horse high above the road watching Annie and Pilgrim depart. He has looked into each soul, seeing their unique wounding; he has imparted love and life to each one. They are not the same as when they arrived. They have been rejuvenated, washed, and transformed by the grace of God.
Scripture: Titus 3:5,6