The Rider—A Spiritual Journey of the Cowboy

Opens June 8 at The State

The Rider opens with an ethereal dreamlike image of a horse. This is our main character Brady’s dream, and, as he wakes from it, we follow him out of bed and into his bathroom where a sobering reality sets in. Brady’s head is bandaged, and he removes the gauze to reveal more than a dozen staples holding together a long winding gash in his skull. Brady removes a few of the staples, wraps his head in cellophane to protect his wound, and takes a shower. This is the life of a rodeo cowboy.

Brady Jandreau plays a fictionalized version of himself in The Rider

Director Chloe Zhao and Brady.

Director Chloe Zhao and Brady Jandreau.

Director Chloe Zhao uses non-actors—real life bronco rider and horse trainer Brady Jandreau and his family—with a story based on Jandreau’s real-life rodeo accident. Zhao films them nearly documentary style and mixes neo-realism narrative with majestic cinematography that captures the spirituality of the South Dakota badlands in Gone With The Wind painted skies. In an early scene, Brady and his fellow rodeo riders sit around a fire at night comparing stories of riding injuries. This is where the two aspects of storytelling come together because you can’t really understand these young men’s passion for riding without feeling their connection to the land. Life on the Lakota reservation is not an easy one, and part of this film’s accomplishment is allowing the audience to really feel these people’s intrinsic connection to it.

A Cowboy’s purpose is to ride

Brady can’t conceive of a life without horse training and riding again in rodeos. Doctors tell him that he cannot ride again or the seizures he is experiencing will worsen. His friends seem to view the injury as far less serious than it is, telling him to “power through the pain like a cowboy.”Brady_Tattoo

Facing financial difficulties, he is forced to take a job at a grocery store. In this new life after his accident, Brady feels lost. A third of the way through the film there is a scene in a corral with a rancher who has a horse no human has touched. The rancher asks Brady to train the horse, and, for the first time, we see what Brady was born to do–and it is nothing short of breathtaking. Later I learned that this was not a scene written for the film, but something that occurred naturally during the making of the movie while the director let her camera run.

Much has been said about The Rider’s themes of masculinity, but the film is, at its core, compassionate and humanistic. What happens when life diverts us from what we were born to do? Brady often visits his friend Lane, a former daredevil who can’t walk or speak after his own rodeo accident. Brady knows the dangers of riding again, but is a life without passion worth living?

The Rider has won virtually every major independent film award–it’s a stunning achievement and highly recommended.

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