One of the perils of going to an “art house” for some “cinema” is that you might be disturbed by what you see. After all, “Art”, as the saying goes, should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable (an idea also embraced by journalists).
Around this time last year, my wife and I went to see Yorgos Lanthimos’s Oscar-nominated “The Favourite” at our local art house. She liked it more than I did (there was mild disappointment in this corner that it wasn’t about a well-backed British racehorse), but we both left the theater curious to see more of the Lanthimos oeuvre.
A few nights later we screened the director’s “The Lobster” (2015) on Netflix. Once again, the title was somewhat misleading, as the film was not about lobsters per se, but about a man caught in a dystopia who – when offered the chance to possibly be changed into any species across the entire animal kingdom – decided he might join the Nephropidae family. His minder responded enthusiastically, “A lobster is an excellent choice!”
Despite being categorized on the IMDb as a comedy/drama/romance, “The Lobster” is hardly a lighthearted romp. Apparently, darkly comic dystopian allegory is not a suitable capsulized description, even in the relatively highbrow pages of the New York Times (which, oddly, saw fit to add sci-fi/thriller to the IMDb’s rom-com-drama trifecta).
One of my failings as a moviegoer is a tendency to take allegories too literally. The “title” character’s choice was based on the lobster’s long life span, enduring fertility, and its “aristocratic” blue blood. While I suppose maintaining a good attitude is helpful even in the face of dystopia, I found it odd that the distinct possibility of being tossed headfirst into a pot of boiling water did not occur to the would-be lobster. That would be like opting for “Thoroughbred” on the magical belief that you will turn out to be AP Indy¹.
Dancing around the subject of death has been with us since humans first developed the habit of whistling past graveyards. People “pass away”. Beloved pets “cross the rainbow bridge” as they are “put to sleep”. Meanwhile, every year, the killing of thousands of unwanted Thoroughbreds is outsourced to abattoirs just across our land borders, largely out of sight and out of mind.
Here’s a sad truth. Slaughter is, effectively, racing’s market-based “solution” to equine population control. It is by far the worst part of American racing’s broken business model. There are more humane options worthy of consideration, but these would bear a financial burden and likely be viewed by racing’s power brokers as either unpalatable (euthanasia) or pie in the sky (a pension for every thoroughbred).
Unlike in the movies, racing will never be able to claim that “no animals were harmed” in the filming of its pictures. That just can’t happen. If American racing is to survive, it will need to show that Thoroughbreds lead long and rewarding lives, and that the inherent perils of racing are therefore risks worth taking. Leave dystopia to the cinema. Racing must show its love is real. This way, when people fantasize about which animal they would like to be, they might actually consider the Thoroughbred. Then, they could even be sincerely reassured that “a Thoroughbred is an excellent choice!”
¹AP Indy is a champion racehorse, the most influential American stallion of the last 50 years, and, at 31, the greatest living equine pensioner. [Edit: 8 days after this was posted, AP Indy died peacefully at his home at Lanes End Farm in Kentucky.]