The Rider

The Rider ★★★★

While I watched it, it didn't seem like much. Now, though, I can't stop thinking about its subtle strangeness and the unspoken questions that increase after the credits roll.

What's a guy to do when what he longs to do, what he knows he's good at, and what he believes is his God-given purpose in life... may not be wise to do ever, may be a hastily drawn conclusion about what he's best at, and may not be God's purpose for him at all?

I've read and heard lot of responses to this film saying that its weak point comes when the character spells out the film's wisdom in a moment of simplistic moralizing. But I think that moment is ambiguous, that we're meant to ask, "Is that the only truth in your life? Is that really the wisest conclusion to draw from these circumstances?"

If riding is the purpose God has given you, what he's made you for, what pleases him most in your life, then how are you to make sense of your life when that thing — like compulsive gambling — becomes a shortcut to ruin?

Hmm. A white* male trying to hold on to a fantasy about himself and his work, while also showing tenderness to a vulnerable and mentally challenged sibling, and while his daily gambles bring him closer and closer to a seemingly inevitable calamity... This would make a fascinating double feature with the Safdie's Good Time.

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*Correction: Mayward points out that Brady is Lakota, which I somehow, in a spectacular failure of attention, missed. So it would be better to say "Western male" than "white male."

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Update: I can't stop thinking about the roles women play — or don't play — in this film. It's as if The Rider takes place in another world, a world of men and for men, in which women can speak meaningfully but stay on the edges of things doing a man's dishes, pouring a man's beer, or occasionally rolling a man a joint. The absence of Brady's mother, treated as somewhat important in the film, seems even more important than the movie knows. There is something slightly off about these men and their religion of animal mastery, as if something in that drive comes from their strange agreement that women are secondary and incidental. It's as if women, tired of men who wanted to master them, have nearly abandoned these men to their world and their illusions, and they're left with horses. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but the unspoken disinterest among the cowboys, accompanied by their deep sadness and confusion, seemed increasingly strange as the movie went on.

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Another update: As this is a film about male intimacy in a dying Western culture that seems to treat women as an awkward necessity, this would also make an interesting compare/contrast double-feature with Certain Women, which is about women finding meaningful lives and intimacy with one another in a fading West that men make almost impossible for them.

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Christianity in this film is very, very strange — practically unrecognizable to me.

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Also: I couldn't stop staring at Brady's face. It is the most uncanny amalgam of young Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as if somebody used a computer program to design the most box-office-ready male star.

Artistry: 4/5
My enthusiasm: 3.7/5

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