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If you have not seen the movie thoroughbreds, oh man are you missing out. Some are likening it to Heathers meets American Psycho… which I don’t think quite captures it. But its a start. It communicates, pretty accurately with what the move really is all about at least directionally. (That is, if you know the movie Heathers (and if you don’t, just please leave. Go. Just move along.) or the movie American Psycho, of course.) But this movie has been at the top of my MUST SEE list for over half a year now. And I already have it on my calendar to watch it again tonight. Can’t get enough.
But what is the movie Thoroughbreds? Well, funny you should ask. It isn’t 100% clear at first blush. Basically it’s two college students, Amanda (played by Olivia Cooke, of Ready Player One fame and The Signal fame) and Lily (played by Anya Taylor-Joy of the Morgan, and Split fame) that are in some sort of prearranged time to study together for some reason. One has some sort of emotional disorder that isn’t even classifiable and the other is the epitome of unhappy. And its these two girls trying to make a way of it through their fairly entitled and yet fairly complicated surroundings.
If you are not a fan of ambiguous or illusory sorts of movies? This a movie you’ll probably want to take a pass on. But if you don’t mind working for your entertainment, maybe you’ll dig it? It has the setup that is similar to Blackcoat’s Daughter, but not the cinematic or tonal darkness. I think the feel is more similar to Welcome the Stranger, in the most ways possible. The small cast, the tone, the crazy ending… all sort of has the feeling of Welcome the Stranger. No no no! I’ve got it. Thoroughbreds is actually more like American Beauty than the rest of it. Here, you watch this and tell me if I am not spot on with that assessment:
See? No? Not American Beauty??! Then you tell me what movie better captures the soul of this movie then! ‘Cause I think I just nailed the zeitgeist match game. (Oooh, did I just invent an interwebs parlor game? Zeitgeist Movie Match Game? Basically you play it like this: you pick up a card with the name THOROUGHBREDS on it. You announce the movie title out to the others playing the game. And then they write down the closest movie match (or funniest movie match) and they tell their picks. And you award a point to the winner that best encapsulated the movie in question. Brilliant. It’d only be enjoyable for the gang that hangs out on this site. Most others would hate this game. For sure.
Well, if you haven’t quite had the privilege of watching Thoroughbreds yet, get on the stick. Oh, and also don’t read any further, because from here on out, HERE BE DRAGONS. Lots and lots and lots of spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Thoroughbreds Detailed Movie Walkthrough and Explanation
This entire movie is confusing. Just all kinds of wobbly-mind-jobness happening here. And that is especially true of the opening. Which, I would have bet you five bucks was the ending of the movie. (No, I don’t owe you five bucks… cool yer jets. Sheesh.) The opening begins with Amanda and her horse. Yeah. And not much more. But we know the moment is fairly important seeing as though there is a knife there in the scene. But we don’t know anything other than that at the opening.
THOROUGHBREDS CHAPTER 1 Explained
The thing that makes this movie? The single thing that just cherries the heck out of this thing? It’s the dialogue. (Do you spell dialogue dialog? If so I dislike you. This is all we will say about this topic.) The conversations in this movie are to die for. Like heart attack level good. Like this example from the opening of Chapter 1, where are two characters are reconnecting after a not insignificant amount of time: “Think I would do better dropping out of college and Steve Jobsing my way through life.” Or this quote from Amanda talking about her emotional disorders: “The shrink first thought it was borderline personality, then it was severe depression, then yesterday it was anti-social with schizoid tendencies. She’s just flipping random pages from the DSM-5 and throwing medications at me… doesn’t make me a bad person, just means I have to work a little harder to be good.”
We start though, all on the wrong foot. Amanda walks into this amazing house and just wanders through it until Lily arrives. We have no real idea why Amanda is there. We have no idea why she feels comfortable enough to climb up and mess around with the samarai sword on the wall. But there has to be a reason here somewhere. Maybe Amanda is getting tutored by Lily? Maybe she is being paid to help her with her school work? Or maybe not. In chapter 1 we really have nothing to go on as to why this relationship is happening. And chapter 1 only gets more weird at the end when Amanda checks in on Lily’s internship, which apparently didn’t happen.
And when Amanda meets Lily’s step father, Mark (played by Paul Sparks, of The Greatest Showman and Midnight Special fame), we see just how much Lily loathes him when she says, “Have you considered killing him? Sure it’s outside the box, but you can only get so far thinking like everyone else thinks.” And as the first chapter comes to a close, and that is, that Amanda feels nothing. And Lily feels everything.
THOROUGHBREDS CHAPTER 2 Explained
One thing that is really interesting about the shooting style at the opening of the movie is how Cory Finley uses a standard shot then reverse-shot dialogue technique in order to place Amanda and Lily on opposite sides of the frame and to separate them as much as humanly possible in the frame. But as the movie progresses, Finley flips to both women in frame and then morphs them almost into the same characters as he draws them closer and closer until we come to the ending when they are basically one in the same. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Where were we? Oh, yes. Chapter 2.
As chapter 2 starts, we start to learn more about Lily’s family life – or lack there of. We see that her mother is tanning because her husband “likes it when I have a little color.” We learn that Lily’s parents want her to go to Brookemore – which is a college for girls with behavioral problems. Not only that, but apparently Lily had been expelled from Andover due to plagiarism, which is the school her biological father bought her way into. Which tells us that while her world from the outside looks all kinds of inviting, it actually is a horrific existence all the way around. We learn that Lily’s step father has already made a downpayment for Lily’s schooling at Brookemore, and that is the end of that discussion.
And with that, Lily unscrews one of her father’s bicycle tires. At the end of chapter 3, Lily and Amanda find themselves discussing the demise Lily’s father. “All I know is that if we are going to do this, we would need to be far away and with airtight alibis.
THOROUGHBREDS CHAPTER 3 Explained
Enter the drug dealer, Tim (played by Anton Yelchin, which is his last role after getting crushed by his own jeep of all things), who is there just to get twisted up in these two gals downward spiraling lives. It’s here that Amanda lets Tim know that lily has a proposition for him. And through some deftly handled intimidation, Lily and Amanda basically inform Tim that he is either going to kill Lily’s step father, or he’s going to go to prison for a very long time. My favorite quote from this conversation with Tim was when Amanda explained to Lily why she cracked Tim in the head, “You cannot hesitate. The only thing worse than being incompetent, or unkind, or evil, is being indecisive.” Is there something more here for the audience to glean from?
The plan as the girls see it is almost amateur hour level murder planning. While Lily and her mother are out at a spa, Tim will break into the house and find Mark and kill him. Then he’ll steal some random stuff to make it look like a robbery and it’ll be done. Only problem? When Tim arrives to kill Mark, the lights are motion detecting, and it completely freaked Tim out, and he decided not to go through with it.
Probably the single most important conversation takes place between Mark and Lily just after Lily had decided she was going to kill Mark once and for all. Amanda talks her out of it due to her current emotional state, but promises to stand around the corner with a knife at the ready in case her step-father becomes abusive. Mark lays into his step-daughter after he catches her smoking in the kitchen. “You couldn’t understand another point of view because you believe that all these people are little offshoots of your own consciousness.” And when Lily asked Amanda why she didn’t attack him her response is perfect, “He wasn’t far off base, empathy isn’t your strong suit.”
THOROUGHBREDS THE MURDER EXPLAINED
And as the movie barrels through to its conclusion, Lily tells Amanda to stop drinking her drink because she slipped a roofie in it. Why? Because she was going to frame Amanda for the murder of her father. I mean, who better to frame after all than a girl that hacked her horse all to pieces? And in a surprising mad dash, Amanda slugs back the drink and goes along with the plan. “You’r a great friend” Lily says to Amanda. “I’m a skilled imitator…” answer’s Amanda as the drink begins to take effect. With that, Lily heads up to where her father is working out, and stabs him to death. Lily comes back down and spreads the blood all over Amanda’s arms and then hugs her. And with a collective, exasperated cry, I hear an enormous swath of you saying… she WHAT?
Why don’t we finish walking through exactly what happened, and then double back, and see what we have at the end?
Insert jump cut, and we see Lily stumbling upon Tim, a valet car parker, as she parks at a restaurant in town. Tim obviously knew about the plan to kill Mark, and he obviously knew that Mark was dead. Right? So the only question now is, does he buy it that Lily wasn’t involved, that Amanda did it on her own? So Lily tells Tim that Amanda did send her a letter from prison. But what did the letter say?
THE TWO END DREAMS OF THOROUGHBREDS EXPLAINED
The first dream: was about Amanda taking Lily’s roofie screwdriver and Lily asking why. But Amanda has a horse’s head and the only thing that comes out when she tries to speak is a winnie. Simple enough. The dream is about us, and our search for understanding about Amanda and her choice in the end. It’s about Lily looking goodness in the face and wondering.
The second dream: “I am a honeymoon, and I am dying. And I rise out of my body, and I stare down at our whole suburb. And time is speeding up and I see whole generations coming and going and building bigger houses, and then eventually, people start spending more and more of their time staring at their smart phones. And soon enough they forget to clean their houses, mow their lawns, or eat. And they vanish into the internet. And this the really beautiful part, the horses take over. And the whole suburb is just thoroughbred horses with no owners with no way of knowing how expensive they are, just mating and galloping through the ruins.”
Cut to Lily and Tim standing there as Lily wonders what she should say about the letter. “What did it say?” And Lily responds with, “I don’t know… I just threw it away.”
And with that, the movie ends, and leaves millions of movie viewers gobsmacked. But what does it mean? What is a dying honeymoon? And what’s with the horses running through the abandoned suburbs? Well, most of it should be fairly obvious. Amanda is bemoaning the state of affairs in the culture and throughout the suburbs of America. Finley was speaking to the fundamental transactional heartbeat of this country. A place where currency consumes everything and each gain is counterbalanced by an equal loss by someone else. The rich can only be rich because the poor are not.
We are consumed by our phones, our internets, and our entertainments. Empathy isn’t any of our strong suits anymore. And the dream continues on, talking about the rising of the thoroughbreds and the free new world that should come of a world of true wild spirits roaming the planet. Or its the inverse – a Solipsistic view where everyone else fades away and it is only you.
Theory #1 – Thoroughbreds and Reality?
Could the movie Thoroughbreds be ground in any sort of reality at all. The movie consists of Two main actors, both dancing around each other verbally and mentally. We have a drug dealer, and murder accomplice, that fails miserably at both. We have a step-father that is our own foil at all, and our arch villain. And a mother that gives us her only dialogue from the bowels of a tanning bed. And while our society has slid woefully down the social-media fun slide, this isn’t a day in the life of the Kardashian family. This is something else entirely. And maybe Thoroughbreds is just a funhouse mirror reflection of ourselves? And our truly unreal realities we are currently living through.
Theory #2 – Thoroughbreds and Solipsism
Probably the single greatest quote that summarizes the movie as a whole is from Mark, and at the expense of being redundant, I’ll drop it in again… “You couldn’t understand another point of view because you believe that all these people are little offshoots of your own consciousness.” That? My friends? Is Metaphysical Solipsism. Or the belief that absolutely nothing exists outside the self. The world, the people, the everything… all one self. No other minds, just your own. And as our society collapses ever-inwards in its selfish pursuit of ever more egotistical validation this is where the next logical step of our philosophical reasoning would take us. Smack, Dab, In the Middle, of Solipsism. But there are TWO main actors in this movie, which one is the solips?! hahaha. Enter theory number three.
Theory #3 – Thoroughbreds the ID and the Superego
If you remember back to Psych101, you remember Freud and his ID, Ego, and Superego. The Id being the uncoordinated instinctual self. The Ego being the mediator between the Id and the Superego. And the Superego that ensures narcissistic satisfaction. (I swear, I am not making this up. I even pulled out my old Psych book to validate. Personally cannot stand Freud, so I know for a fact that I am doing him a disservice (maybe intentionally from my superego?!?))
None of that really matters. My only point? What if Lily and Amanda are the same person? Heathers, one of the movies that is most referenced when talking about this movie, has a number of theories along this line. What if all the Heathers, and Veronica were actually one character? (want a deeper dive just into the color meanings of the different characters? I got you. And I have a pile more interesting deep dives into Heathers. Its literally one of my favorite movies of all time. And yet I haven’t written about it here? What?) And that is my point, could it be that Lily and Amanda are just two halves of a whole? I mean, you have one character that feels everything. You have one that feels nothing… that is like, 100% the definition of the ID and the Superego. Like, perfectly. There’s nothing more to say about it than that.
So with that said, it could be that Theory #2 & #3 could concurrently be true and not exclude each other. So is this movie a hyperreal response to the trauma of Lily’s father dying? Did she split and kill a horse, and plagiarize some stuff and get kicked out of Andover? And is she tutoring herself through this period and just trying to grapple with the chaos of this reality, as she begins to fiddle with this idea of killing her stepfather?
Final Thoughts on Thoroughbreds
The theories I threw together really don’t matter much. I was just sort of making the point that this movie is an internal dialogue of the mind of a girl, a woman, that is so deeply entrenched in the day in an day out of our culture that she is a litmus test of our time. Sure, its a black comedy, a rip-roaring commentary that is supposed to leave you agog. Thoroughbreds is a movie that is bemoaning the collapse of our collective suprasubliminalpsychoparalysis. And whether you buy my theories or not, you have to admit that as the movie progresses, Amanda and Lily begins to transform throughout the course of the events that happen. Lily starts as someone that feels everything, and becomes the woman that feels nothing. Amanda starts the movie as someone that feels nothing, and moves to the woman that feels everything. I’m here, dying on my honeymoon.
I adored this movie. Especially the pitch perfect dialogue. The gorgeous aesthetic. Everything. Fantastic movie. But at its core is a dark secret that it reflects more than it proclaims. And that really is a dark truth about us all.