Movie: "The Horse Whisperer"
by Peggy Vaughan

Movies often reflect changes in society and, of course, they sometimes influence changes as well. Potentially, the "The Horse Whisperer" is such a movie.

I have long been distressed at the hypocrisy inherent in our "fascination" with stories of affairs in books (especially romance novels), TV (especially soap operas), and movies—where we glorify the experiences of people having affairs—while at the same time criticizing and condemning people in "real" life who engage in the same behavior. On the one hand, we give lip service to monogamy, but on the other, we inadvertently contribute to an environment that "supports" affairs.

While the movie, "The Horse Whisperer" still depicts an "affair of the heart" as quite appealing, it also offers a realistic portrayal of the pain and suffering of everyone involved in a triangle such as this. However, what impresses me most is the fact that there was a deliberate effort to provide this perspective by virtue of the fact that the movie changed the story as it was presented in the book.

Even though I'm a "bookaholic," I seldom read fiction. But when "The Horse Whisperer" was first published, I made a point of taking a quick look at it—since I knew it dealt with an extramarital affair and I wanted to see how it would be presented. I suspected it was going to be similar to the story line of "Bridges of Madison County," a previous book and movie dealing with this subject. Sure enough, I could see that this was another one of those "glorification of affairs" movies that would likely be extremely painful from the perspective of those husbands and wives struggling to deal with a partner's affair.

Knowing that a movie based on the book (especially one produced, directed and starring Robert Redford) was likely to get a lot of attention, I suspected I'd hear from people about it. So I made a point of going to the movie when it first opened in order to be better prepared if asked to comment. I found it a beautifully-filmed story with an engrossing account of a young girl's terrible accident and subsequent struggle. But I was somewhat distracted since I was waiting to see how the "affair" line would develop. Since this movie is almost 3 hours long, I kept wondering when the affair would be "consummated" as it was in the book. But there never was a "get-into-bed, sexual" encounter; instead there was a kissing scene, a hugging scene, and scene with some intense sexual chemistry.

I began wondering if I had scanned the book too quickly and made false assumptions as to the story. Then I read a newspaper article that clarified the situation. Here's a description of Robert Redford's approach to making the book into a movie:

"Redford made the story his own…excising overt sex for an unconsummated sizzle between Booker and the girl's mother. He said, 'It became more about making the right choice against all impulses, against all desire; to make that higher choice and face the sacrifice that would come with it.'"

While these may have been his personal thoughts on the subject, obviously he needed to feel this change would still succeed commercially. So perhaps this is a small sign of a growing awareness of the unrealistic portrayals of extramarital affairs that have dominated our culture and a growing willingness to confront our hypocrisy about the realities involved in dealing with them.

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