In Turin on 3rd January, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Albert. Not far from him, the driver of a hansom cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. His landlord takes him home, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words, and lives for another ten years, silent and demented, cared for by his mother and sisters. We do not know what happened to the horse.
It’s over two hours but contains only thirty uninterrupted takes.
“The Turin Horse” begins with a story about how Nietzsche once saw a cab driver abusing a horse on the street. He ran up to the horse and hugged it. This event, the legend goes, drove him insane. After a powerful opening tracking shot of an old man driving a horse through a forbidding landscape, the film focuses on its main area of interest, the daily lives of the old man and his daughter.
We are shown six tedious and somewhat monotonous days in their meager lives. Tarr seems fascinated by their routines and their attempts to cling to it as the world (or at least their world) is coming to an end. Tarr cares not about storytelling – very little happens in this film in terms of plot and dialogue. Rather, “The Turin Horse” takes advantage of the resources unique to cinema – beautifully choreographed camera movements, exceptional usage of lighting, depiction of events in real time, and the plasticity of perspective. As the film progresses, it gradually shuts down somewhat like an anti-Genesis story. It feels like God is unmaking the world in six days.
“Do you remember, Milan Kundera wrote this book about the lightness of the being? We just wanted to show you the heaviness of the being.”
Hungarian director Bela Tarr in The New York Times, promoting his latest (and possibly last) film, The Turin Horse.
The problem is that most films follow the same pattern: Action, cut, action, cut. They only watch the story line. But story is not only human actions, everything can be a story. A man waiting at a corner can be a story. There is many things that are important in real life but that filmmakers find boring. I don’t think that these things are boring. In my films, I want to be closer to life than to cinema.
Jeremy Meckler: Is it a coincidence that what you have said is your last film is about the last moment of sanity in Friedrich Nietzsche’s life?
Béla Tarr: Of course there is some connection, because before, when I started this project, I knew it would be my last. But you have to know also that we really just wanted to do a very simple, very pure film. We’re just showing how [the world] will be over, the horse will be over, life will be over. It’s very simple. Please just trust your eyes. That’s too much—don’t be sophisticated, okay?!
"Because everything’s in ruins. Everything’s been degraded, but I could say that they’ve ruined and degraded everything. Because this is not some kind of cataclysm, coming about with so-called, innocent human aide. On the contrary… It’s about man’s own judgement, his own judgement over his own self, which of course God has a hand in, or dare I say: takes part in. And whatever he takes part in is the most ghastly creation that you can imagine. Because, you see, the world has been debased. So it doesn’t matter what I say because everything has been debased that they’ve acquired, and since they’ve acquired everything in a sneaky, underhand fight, they’ve debased everything. Because whatever they touch – and they touch everything – they’ve debased. This is the way it was until the final victory. Until the triumphant end. Acquire, debase. Debase, acquire. Or I can put it differently if you like: to touch, debase and thereby acquire, or touch, acquire and thereby debase. It’s been going on like this for centuries. On, on and on. This and only this, sometimes gently, sometimes brutally, but it has been going on and on. Yet only in one way, like a rat attacks an ambush. Because for this perfect victory it was also essential that the other side… That is, everything that’s excellent, great in some way and noble should not engage in any kind of fight. There shouldn’t be any kind of struggle, just the sudden disappearance of one side, meaning the disappearance of the excellent, the great, the noble. So that by now these winning winners who attack from the ambush rule the earth, and there isn’t a single tiny nook where one can hide something from them, because everything they can lay their hands on is theirs. Even things we think they can’t reach – but they do reach – are also theirs. Because the sky is already theirs and all our dreams. Theirs is the moment, nature, infinite silence. Even immorality is theirs, you understand? Everything, everything is lost forever! And those many noble, great and excellent just stood there, if I can put it that way. They stopped at this point, and had to understand, and had to accept that there is neither god nor gods. And the excellent, the great and the noble had to understand and accept this right from the beginning. But of course they were quite incapable of understanding it. They believed it and accepted it but they didn’t understand it. They just stood there, bewildered but not resigned, until something – that spark from the brain – finally enlightened them. And all at once they realized that there is neither god nor gods. All at once they saw that there is neither good nor bad. Then they saw and understood that if this was so, then they themselves do not exist either! You see, I reckon this may have been the moment when we can say that they were extinguished, they burnt out. Extinguished and burnt out like the fire left to smolder in the meadow. One was the constant loser, the other was the constant winner. Defeat, victory, defeat, victory and one day – here in the neighborhood – I had to realize and I did realize, that I was mistaken, I was truly mistaken when I thought that there has never been and could never be any kind of change here on earth. Because, believe me, I know now that this change has indeed taken place."