Destructive Complacency and the Call to Action of 'The Turin Horse'

It's possible to read 'The Turin Horse' as life-affirming. You just need to know your Nietzsche.

The Turin Horse
The Cinema Guild

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video that explores Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse.


Béla Tarr‘s The Turin Horse is built around a legendary act of cruelty. The tale is apocryphal, likely hovering more in the realm of fiction than of fact. But it goes something like this: one day the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed the abuse of a stubborn horse in the streets of Turin. Frustrated by the animal’s lack of compliance, the owner whipped the horse again and again until Nietzsche intervened. Supposedly, this is the experience that catalyzed the eleven years of madness that left the philosopher bedridden until his death.

Tarr’s film is concerned with the other side of the story. Namely: what happened to the horse?

The film follows a week in the life of a poor farmer and his daughter who live in a shack on the outskirts of Turin. But they might as well be on the edge of the world. Apocalyptic winds ravage the barren landscape. Their mistreated and increasingly stubborn horse refuses to work. And their only source of food (boiled potatoes) is growing scarce. Even as the situation grows worse and worse, the pair list through the same actions expecting different results. The world hasn’t crushed their spirits. Rather, they appear to move through the world without any spirit at all. They keep waiting for something to happen to them. But they are unable, or at least unwilling, to make anything happen for themselves.

Throughout the film, the farmer’s ill-treatment of the horse echoes in the distance. Perhaps it was the kind of misdeed that summons winds and blights crops. But, as the video essay below explains, the father and daughter’s repetitive purgatory is not a punishment. It’s a state of mind: a destructive complacency, best described by who else but Nietzsche himself.

Watch “Understanding Nietzsche’s Connection to The Turin Horse“:


Who made this?

The Movement Image is a film journal edited by Grant Kerber and Paul Ebenkamp. Their companion YouTube channel contains videos based on content from the journal and analogous projects. You can subscribe to The Movement Image on YouTube here. You can check out the journal’s website here.

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