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Harry Dean Stanton,
1889. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse while traveling in Turin, Italy. He tossed his arms around the horse's neck to protect it then collapsed to the ground. In less than one month, Nietzsche would be diagnosed with a serious mental illness that would make him bed-ridden and speechless for the next eleven years until his death. But whatever did happen to the horse? This film, which is Tarr's last, follows up this question in a fictionalized story of what occurred. The man who whipped the horse is a rural farmer who makes his living taking on carting jobs into the city with his horse-drawn cart. The horse is old and in very poor health, but does its best to obey its master's commands. The farmer and his daughter must come to the understanding that it will be unable to go on sustaining their livelihoods. The dying of the horse is the foundation of this tragic tale. Written by
Bela Tarr claims this will be his last film, and damn does it have finality written all over it. I guess there's few ways to be more final than to devote a work to the end of humanity. And I've never seen a film that struck me as more authentically apocalyptic than this one. It is immediately strange to say then, that one of the things that most impressed me about this juggernaut is its ultra-sly humor. Tarr really is a nihilist and a misanthrope, at least philosophically. The fall of our silly little species really is funny to him, in the darkest way possible, and in half audible beats he makes it funny for us too. All of the other species have sensed the death of the world and have, reasonably, stopped trying to survive. Only homosapiens, represented by a half-functioning horse-carriage driver and his daughter, are clueless enough to continue their wretched routine in the face of a blatant apocalypse. We, along with Tarr, laugh at, pity, and admire the duo for this all at the same time. This is why I call Tarr a misanthrope in philosophy only. In practice, he has love for his fools, even as he leads them towards annihilation. The film includes many references to cinematic finality as well. Fading lanterns, windows that show a world that is becoming not, opaque, all suggest an abandoned cinema. The empty shell of a cinematic artist imagining his own abandoned corpse.
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