The Rider, written and directed by Chloé Zhao, is an astonishing work of art, blending real-life people with a fictional story, thus blurring the line between fiction & non-fiction. Many films dealing with the eternal conflict between nurturing one’s desire and reality suffer from an over-exaggeration of symbolism, dramatic establishment of the conflict, and a self-indulgence to conceive elegiac allegory using instruments like surrealism, absurdism, or narrating the story with a subtlety that internal feelings of the characters are far too muted to empathise with.
The Rider delves deeper into the consciousness of humanistic values and creates an intimate story; Chloé Zhao has a sharp instinct to gauge an impulse, she has complete control over the complex blend of human emotions that defines an individual’s relationship with himself, animals and the society.
The Rider is set in the wide, windy Dakota prairie, breathing rodeos, smelling cowboys and nourishing singular dreams. Brady (Brady Jandreau), the lead protagonist of the film, lives in a trailer with his autistic sister, Lilly (Lilly Jandreau), and their father, Wayne (Tim Jandreau). They are blood family off-screen as well, and Brady has indeed suffered a head injury which eventually inspired Chloe to write a story around it.
Brady’s life comes to standstill when he is thrown off a horse in a rodeo event. He suffers a skull fracture and has a metal plate put inside. Doctors have warned him to not ride again, as it might prove fatal. He is grappled with fear, fear of the end of life as he knew it. He slips into denial to accept that the former meaning and realities of life have changed beyond recognition. He tries to hold on to that. He tries to reconstruct his life midst of dreadful feeling that life is shutting down before it had really begun.
Chloé treads on the untraveled path, quite courageously, for the heard inspiring story that has been done to deaths, and the result is that she manages to pull off the most beautiful film of the year. She never exploits impediments in the lives of the characters as the means to evoke empathy, and further accentuate it to spin a melodramatic elegy.
Brady’s father, whose aspiration for becoming a rodeo comes crashing down after a possible accident, sinks in grief every day and treats it by gambling and drinking. Brady tries to get a job for himself, but he is looking for a temporary position. On being asked by a job consultant about his work experience and education, it is at that moment it dawns upon him that he knows nothing except for horse riding. The scene is tragic, to say the least. He manages to find a job in a local supermarket. Brady spends time with his autistic sister and best friend Lane (Lane Scott), a bull rider paralyzed by a brain injury caused due to a car accident. Brady sees a shadow of his former self in Lane, he realises that even if he is in a better position than Lane, he is rendered as handicapped as Lane himself. They watch old videos of memorable rides, and their refusal to feel sorry for themselves makes their scenes together all the more heartbreaking.
The performance by Brady Jandreau in ‘The Rider’ is intimate, heartfelt and endearing, and, undoubtedly, one of the best performances of the year. I have not felt as jolted, shaken and heartbroken by any performance in a long time. The scene where Brady tries to tame the horse is enough to prove his mettle as a great actor in making.
The Rider is the best film of 2018 (so far), even though it doesn’t follow a conventional character arc, there is an absence of traditional narrative, and it flips the rule of screenwriting on its head, it still scores a home run solely based on the heartbreaking performances of the cast and an intimate way of storytelling about the American dream & masculinity. It’s a beautiful elegy that finds silence threatening and patience rewarding.
PRODUCTION: A Caviar, Highwayman Films presentation. (International sales: Protagonist Pictures, London.) Producers: Chloé Zhao, Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche, Mollye Asher. Executive producers: Michael Sagol, Jasper Thomlinson, Yuji Zhao, Dickey Abedon, Daniel Sbrega.
CREW: Director, Screenplay: Chloé Zhao. Camera (colour, widescreen): Joshua James Richards. Editor: Alex O’Flinn. Music: Nathan Halpern.
WITH: Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Lane Scott, Cat Clifford.