Recalling the first scene of Chloé Zhao’s second full length film, The Rider, still makes me cringe. I saw it in January as part of The Brattle Theatre’s “(Some of) The Best of 2018” series, and while I can enjoy body horror in the right circumstances, I was not prepared for the first scene in this film. We join our protagonist, Brady, in the bathroom of the small home he shares with his sister and father. We hover over Brady’s stapled scalp as he removes the bandages and several staples.
This freaked me all the way out, but in the same way I hated washing out a bad scrape I got on my knee when riding a bike with my brother at the age of 14. I cannot relate to being bucked off of a horse like this character, but this scene drew me into the main character’s experience: not of the accident itself, but rather the story of Brady’s recovery.
This movie is an intensely honest portrayal of cowboy culture through the lens of a disabled cowboy’s body. Brady struggles throughout the film with trying to get his body to perform the way it once did, before his brain injury.
In an effort to preserve his health and welfare, Brady attempts to carve out a path for himself outside of the rodeo, all the while grappling with his desire to return. On top of the heartbreak he bears from leaving behind his passion, Brady must work, with his father, as best they can to manage their financial situation and pay their bills on time.
In the film, Brady describes himself as a cowboy, which I learned is much more than a past-time when he and friends sit around a fire out on the prairie, and as a self-described Yankee city girl, I could not for the life of me figure out what they were saying to one another. This movie immerses the audience in cowboy culture, and is a genuinely beautiful and heartfelt portrayal of a young man’s desire to fulfill what he sees as his purpose in life: to ride.
dir. Chloé Zhao
Screens Thursday, 3/28, 7PM @ Emerson College Bright Family Screening Room, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111
Free Screening as part of the Bright Lights Series sponsored by the Department of Vial Media Arts at Emerson College. Discussion to follow with Emerson professor Nancy J. Allen!