Jul 16, 2011

Movie Review: Buck

While it’s still a weekend, let me recommend the movie Buck, a documentary about Buck Brannaman, the real-life horse whisperer. One of moviedom’s greatest lines—even if it’s an instant cliché—comes from a sadistic prison guard in Cool Hand Luke:   “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”  Buck is all about communication and empathy between a man and any horse.

We also see some of Buck Brannaman’s remarkable biography, which is a study of human character with special attention to courage, endurance, and luck, as an abused boy comes out standing tall, on the other side of meanness.

Buck should be required viewing for all teachers—a refresher course on why they do what they do, even in the midst of a public with too many loud morons among the citizenry and politicians.  Teachers might feel better if they can be coaxed to ponder the benefits of not just training and controlling youth, but also experiencing every student the way Buck Brannaman experiences horses. He too is surrounded by idiots (along with some awfully good people); he’s able to stay focused on the goal, which in many ways amounts to an escape from the idiocracy.

But I’ve I stopped too soon. Buck should also be required viewing for educational administrators. No, that’s too modest. Anyone who manages people or other creatures, or who simply lives among other beings, including skunks and cauliflower, must see this film. Moderation tells me to avoid claiming a movie might be the antidote to sociopathy and, at the other extreme, extreme isolation and loneliness. But maybe we just weren’t listening hard enough to the Other.

What do I know about the organism standing next to me? Might I be less boring, less aggressive and obnoxious, less isolated, less self-absorbed, if I wondered, harder, about what it’s like to be that Other standing two feet away?

What made him a Hater, a me-first hoarder? How can I coax him a few inches away from that, a few steps toward generosity? Surely not by imposing my will on him. Surely it will have to do with listening to what he does and doesn’t say—and thereby persuading him to listen to himself. Maybe a "horse movie" won't cure humanity, but a journey of a thousand miles, and so forth . . . .

All that is what Buck is about. If you’re thinking “touchy-feely Disney pabulum,” please reconsider. Although there is very little profanity, no sex, and only one scene with violence, there are some meaningfully tough moments; it’s a movie for adults, in the best sense of that word.

The handful of negative reviews I’ve read have said:
1.    It’s too much about bromides for humans and not enough about horses.
2.    It’s too much about horses and not enough about bromides on human issues (an assertion that’s downright dumb).

Perhaps you hear the contradictions and see that you need to make your own judgment. But especially if you love animals, you are deprived if you haven't seen Buck.  It won’t hurt anyone, and it might enlarge some feelings you’re glad you have.


PJ said...

I recently learned that there are three kinds of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate. I have come to believe that the right wing backlash is happening because of the breakdown in cultural mores/practices that people have reflexively relied on to inform them about any given issue. I'll take empathy any day, it can transcend these differences and smooth out a lot of rough edges. I haven't seen Buck but I'm guessing that he has all three forms down pat, especially cognitive.

PJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Banjo52 said...

That sounds right, Paula, although I wouldn't leave out the other two kinds of empathy from Buck. If his understanding of, love and respect for horses is only 10% of what he claims, it's still an impressive emotional and compassionate reaching out. And it's probably more than most humans have for each other.

By the way, once I saw where the movie was heading, and once I got a load of Buck's hat and drawl, I was all set to be cynical. It didn't last five minutes.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Paula, great breakdown of an idea. At the heart is fear of displacement.

I've heard of this movie and since you steered me towards Winter Bone and my favorite movie line "is this our time?" ...lets just say I'm listening

My childhood best friend owns a small ranch up North. She's a horse whisperer. Her husband isn't. She travels the south west attending clinics on the subject. She's probably studied under Buck. I asked her once how she was viewed by her colleagues. Specifically if she was considered the nuts and granola end of the equestrian spectrum. She said yes. It's also interesting that she travels the Owen's Valley as a hospice nurse. I love her.

Banjo52 said...

PA, hospice nurse and horse whisperer! Wow. If she's anything like Buck, I'd guess she doesn't give a whinny what the conventional types think as long as she's getting results.

I'm forgetting "Is this our time." Should I remember?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

it's around a minute and 45 secs in. It has to do with the main characters Uncle (brother of the dead father)

"is this gonna be our time?"


Ken Mac said...

i want to lay in that field, poop or not

Banjo52 said...

PA, got it. Thanks.

Ken, with talk like that, you're gonna get kicked out of the city slicker club. (Welcome back from Denmark. Any particular reason you chose it? Kin? You've been everywhere else? You have Danish ancestry? It's that cool?)

Barbaro said...

Your review is almost better than the movie. I liked it, mind you, but I was mildly annoyed that there was so much about Buck-as-miracle-worker and so little about the nuts and bolts--pedagogy if you will--of how those miracles get worked. Next time I encounter a horse, what should I do differently?

Anonymous said...

Don't know if I should weigh-in, because I met him. Went to one of his clinics in Santa Clarita -- must have been 1991? My advice, take some of this with a dose of skepticism. Not saying he's a bad guy, not at all. Just that somewhere along the line, he learned spirituality sells big time.

Banjo52 said...

B and AH, nuts and bolts plus profitable spirituality--yep, there's reason to question, and I'm not ready to invest everything in Buck, Inc.

But at the very least there's an "isn't it pretty to think so" quality in his teaching, and I wonder if we jaded, wounded former students all tend to dismiss that too easily.

People still believe politicians for God's sake. So a teacher who tries to imagine (know?!) the student's frame of reference? Worth a try, isn't it? And I'm not convinced that formal education has really tried. Of course, that costs a lot of money (dollars per pupil) and it means holding special interests (parents, lawyers, and politicians as well as political, jargonist pedagogues) at bay. It's complicated. For sure. But if we say no, is the question whether anyone is GENUINELY interested in how kids do and do not learn. Or horses.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Enjoy your movie review, and Paula's comments have sent me straight to additional reading. Great posts/comments here, Banjomyn!

Andre Previn once remarked that a conductor has to trust his players. A really good player can recognize his mistake and correct it without being berated. Trust plays here.

But I have to go study up on empathy. I thought that word had been removed from the dictionary!

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, thanks once again. I like the Previn example. I go to the symphony a couple of times per year, and I often wonder about what's involved in their teamwork (forgive the pedestrian word). It's beyond my imagining.

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