The Rider

The Rider ★★★★½

An unconventional film that uses the raw performances of its non-actors to underscore a potent spiritual core. The Rider is not afraid to dig into the human experience without the glamour and the polish, and what surfaces are some deeply rooted questions about what makes life worth living.

There are a few ways in which The Rider could compare to another recently released and well received indie film with untested performances and an unconventional narrative style- Eighth Grade. I bring up that film because in the places where I felt that film fell ever so slightly short, The Rider soars, and perhaps the most important aspect is the way it welcomes the audience in on the cowboys experience. If I am not a middle grade, female adolescent, I might be even less of a cowboy. And so the films setting couldn't be further away from my own experience as a born and raised city dweller. And yet the film is consistent in narrowing in on what lies behind the cowboy and Western motif, the stuff that narrates on a universal level.

Which is really all about the power of relationships, be it with a horse, an estranged father, or a disabled sister/brother.

And this is where the film hits on a strong spiritual core, perhaps standing as one of the most Pastoral films I have seen in a long while, certainly in 2018. While coping with his own disability through the use of different vices, isolation and emotional outbursts, the result of an accident in riding that sidelines him for the foreseeable future, the film juxtaposes this struggle against the different relationships that do exist in his life- horse, sister, brother, father, and then uses these relationships to explore the line between giving up and finding the strength to get up and live another day. And understanding that he must find a way to do this knowing that he has lost the very thing that once defined him and gave him an identity reaches into the very nature of our relationship with God in subtle but powerful ways. It becomes a question of purpose, but that question of purpose becomes slowly exposed as a call to see and embrace what is right in front of us in times of struggle as well. It offers is the idea that it is in relationship where we are able to recognize that we are all broken in some way, and this identity shaping reality should offer us the necessary grace we need to move forward towards a purpose that stands taller than our ability and circumstance. And in showing us this, the film is also brave enough to suggest that our true identity does not come from what we are able to do or accomplish on the outside, but rather our identity comes from the way we are able to live into the relationships God has placed in our lives to affect. And as we do that, this is when we are able to see ourselves the way God sees us as well, both in our brokenness and in our ability to love beyond it.

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