Further Thoughts on The Turin Horse by Ben Webster
Josh’s review of The Turin Horse accurately describes its bleak worldview and austere, pensive tone. Beautiful and ugly, indeed- Tarr here captures the primal, earthy energy which pulses in even the most remote outposts of existence, beautifully captured in the opening shot of a horse straining against the weight of a peasant's cart as the camera floats around it, noting the beast’s heaving muscles and single-minded instinct of forward motion. That this energy of life is slowly drained from the film, eventually denying us even the light needed to see the characters, expresses Tarr’s maddening world-view. All becomes debased and corrupt; even the base peasants who subsist on boiled potatoes will be forced to eat them raw. Death will roam the land, bellowing mercilessly against the few trees and homes still standing. Existence will leave no mark but the crude tools of existence- wooden bowls, spades, extinguished lamps- and the silence of those whose lives were already barren. Light and heat will abandon the earth, plunging all into darkness. This absolute pessimism is so extreme it is sure to alienate most viewers. Yet its uncompromising pursuit is what draws one to Tarr, a unity of philosophy and expression, of such purity that its beauty transcends the misery on screen. On screen- The Turin Horse could only be a film, existing at the nexus of duration and light.
Josh is also right to point out the extreme deprivation of character and event. Yet what is remarkable is that from out of the repetitive staging of the quotidian existence of near-mute peasants on the edge of a nondescript dying world, so many provocative allusions emerge. The material culture represented in The Turin Horse suggests late 19th century eastern Europe, contemporary with the incident from Nietzsche’s life recounted in the film’s opening moments. Yet conspicuous in its absence are symbols of Christianity- no crosses or icons, just a religious commentary the daughter mouths without comprehension. Their pagan existence contrasts with the day by day dwindling of life indicated by title cards. The Turin Horse proceeds as a reverse Genesis, on each day another miracle of life disappears, returning the planet to a state of unanimated mass. God withdraws from his creation, not to cede it to evil, but abandoning it to desolation and stillness- cause or effect? Also highly suggestive is the film’s proximity to the zeitgeist of our contemporary global system in the throes of economic and social crises. As a violent wind howls unceasingly outside, atomized but debased family units huddle in bewilderment in their increasingly unstable homes, fearful of the destruction of all the familiar ways of life yet uncertain of how to change their fate. Outsiders- here gypsies that drink from a well that shortly thereafter goes dry- are inscrutable, evil omens of destruction. How close to the xenophobic hostility to immigrants in our own recession-wracked country Tarr touches in his bleak, obscure fable.