The Details You Missed in the Thoroughbreds Movie Explained
The Details You Missed in the Thoroughbreds Movie Explained - or how his American Psycho, Heathers, American Beauty, equivalent discusses ennui of being an American, a human, today. IMDB
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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.


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.


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.


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.”


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 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.

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18 Responses

  1. Hylton

    This isn’t writing so much as you recording your own stream of consciousness

  2. Matthew

    Fantastic little movie. I think I would have preferred if lily didn’t essentially morph into Amanda, but I still enjoyed it’s original dialogue and fantastic ending sequence. Not perfect, but well worth a watch. Indie films are my guilty pleasure.

  3. Yolanda

    Honeymoon’ is the name of the horse that was slaughtered by Amanda. There is not a honeymooner. This does make a difference in one’s understanding of the first dream as well as the latter part of the film.

    – yolanda

  4. Lucas Tacconi

    This is my opinion: I think you are taking this movie too far. I think you are thinking it deeper and extremely more complex than the director and the writer of the script actually did when they shot it. To me, it is what you see. Two uptown gals that manage to kill a disgusting dude. Having said that, I do think there is some kind of beauty in the way it was shot. The lonelyness is present almost all the time, and you feel the misery of richness pretty well. All I can say is that no matter how much money your family has, happyness has to do with how much they love you.

  5. Wes

    The symbolism of ‘not reading the letter’ at the end was most important. It represents her complete transformation into a murderer, it shows her solidarity to the society of numb unfeeling. She has chosen to turn off that switch in her brain which actually makes her more dangerous than Amanda.

  6. Vic

    Thanks for this article. I think the movie was not about those theories you mentioned. It hit me more as a psychological challenge. It was about a person with a peculiar brain / psychological disorder that disallowed her access to her feelings. Somehow similar to an antisocial personality disorder with traces of schizoid disorder! The other one was a narcissistic personality disorder. During the movie, the antisocial-looking character transformed to a better person (by “hardly trying”) and could finally SMILE. The narcissistic one transformed into an antisocial personality disorder (narcissistic and antisocial personalities already share a lot of traits in common, so it is not impossible for a person to be both).

    The analysis of the two dreams was much more complicated than what was presented here. The first dream could be about Amanda perhaps feeling guilt for her horse, despite her lack of remorse in the surface. So she sacrificed herself for her friend’s sake, and found salvation by becoming an innocent and silent victim, just like her horse had become her victim. She has become a prisoner just like her horse was. They inspect her ears and teeth now, just like people check their horses’ ears and teeth. This interpretation extends to the point that Amanda actually did have feelings for others (despite suppressing them), as she wanted to do her horse a favor and put it out of misery. Perhaps she was actually a borderline personality who tried to play an antisocial. (again, these two have a lot in common with the only MAJOR difference that borderline personalities feel great emotions [plus many other minor differences of course]). Simultaneously, the first dream could have many other psychological interpretations. For example, Amanda doesn’t know why she did her friend that favor. (being impulsive is a trait of both antisocial and borderline disorders). Or she knows but she knows that her friend will not care or understand, the way a horse owner would not care that much about her horse’s reasons. Another point in the dream was that Amanda had become a horse, but not Lilly. Maybe becoming a horse means becoming innocent and good to Amanda.

    The second dream again showed Amanda as a victim (trying to correct the guilt Amanda feels?) and also could perhaps be about Amanda’s deep hopes for disappearance of sophisticated form of life and return of a simpler form that only needs to run and mate. Besides, “no humans around” is the deep desire of a typical schizoid personality. It can also be seen in the depressed, not to mention autism (which might not be the case for Amanda).

    Why she smiled when looking at her picture with her friend and her horse? I don’t know. Did she remember the forgotten innocence of her childhood? Did she have some sort of trauma, after which she started to “act” antisocial? And before it, was she free and full of hope and feelings, like the way the picture showed? I wish the director or writer could explain it.

  7. saeed

    very unprofessional review withe lots of unnecessary jiber jaber about how great the movie is and how deep and smart and not teenish characters are. meanwhile no one else is feeling that way and movie got a 6.8 in imdb.

  8. Taylor Holmes

    Hey there Saeed
    I am definitively not a professional. Not even a little bit. It’s actually a hobby. And jibbering, yeah, that’s about all I do here. If this isn’t your thing, then I’d highly recommend this Ebert review: (which coincidentally gave it a 3.5 out of 4). And I get that I don’t work for most people. That’s fair.

    Also, I relish finding movies that people regardless of what people think of it. And heck, I even giggle finding movies that others don’t like that I enjoy, and then discussing them here. So no offense, but yeah, I loved this movie. Everything about it. And sorry if you didn’t dig it. Definitely not for everyone.


  9. Sarah

    You were off on a few things, the girls are in highschool. And Honeymooner was the name of the the dream at the end she says “I am Honeymooner and I am dying..” Kind if weird you were obsessed with this movie and didnt even pick up on the horse’s bame.

  10. Cece

    This movie is haunting, I had to go back and watch it again. Even better the second time. Then I had to look it up just to find more about it and found this delightful article here. One of the best critiques, analyses of this excellent movie. It IS a psychological parody and done quite well. Your piece here is insightful, thoughtful, fun, and much appreciated!

  11. Rach

    Two things… The mom gives more dialogue than just from the tanning bed. Like when she and Lily are discussing her apology letter and her trying to get back into Andover before Mark interrupts and tells Lily that she’s going to Brookmore and it’s not a conversation. She also says some other little things like when she’s at the spa and the dinner table, it’s not much but it’s something. Second, I feel like these aren’t really explanations so much as just quick summaries about each chapter of the movie, you don’t really “explain” anything, just give us blips and direct quotes and then some theories at the end. I agree with you that it was a pretty good movie though and in the end, I feel like given Amanda’s genuine smile and Lily’s cold disposition when speaking to Tim about Amanda, their roles reversed in a way and Amanda ended up feeling everything and Lily felt nothing and that was part of the surprising twist. Also Tim somewhat felt like a useless character unless he was just there for comic relief but still… Love Anton Yelchin though, may he RIP. And I would have liked to see what happened to the moms in the end and their reactions, I felt like it ended abruptly after Lily’s set up. And I like how the dreams were left to the audience’s interpretation and how they were understandably related yet not totally clear, giving us something to think about. Yeah, it was good. Not sure why some people gave it a low rating, it was decent and interesting.

  12. Jamie

    Honeymooner is the name of the horse. I cannot believe you didn’t get that. Amanda from the start called her horse by its name which means she really did have affection for the horse. It really was mercy killing. It terms of apathy Amanda though unconventional without a tight bun of a hair would always seem the cookoo to high society when in fact it is Lily – who has sociopathic tendencies. Mark was right in that dialogue after he caught Lily smoking – they’re all just pawns in her narrative (Like the big chess scene too).

  13. Placidjerk

    I like a nice rambley review myself, and I think you touched on quite a few important points.

    I believe the director has stated that the girls couldn’t complete the murder individually. You can sense their personality traits starting to combine to the point where their shared consciousness becomes capable of carrying it out. Amanda is a pragmatic sociopath who wants to be good but lacks the emotional toolkit to acheive this, at least without outside help. Lily is a solipsitic narcissist who either lacks empathy or chooses to ruthlesssly suppress it. It’s the perfect storm of dark triad personality traits all mixed together into a dealy cocktail.

    Just regarding Anon Yelchin’s character, I’d say one of his thematic functions is to represent class divide, because the way the girls are able to hold power over him with zero social consequences is rather telling. Yelchin was so good, able to make Tim both pathetic and sympathetic, often in the same scene. He will be missed.

    Anyway, thanks for the analysis!


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