All The Pretty Horses

by Alvin G. Burstein

I have been addicted to oaters ever since Shane and High Noon. Being, in addition, a fan of actor Matt Damon and author Cormac McCarthy, I decided to take a belated look at All The Pretty Horses.

The movie begins with striking scenes of a vanishing West and herds of wild ponies. It takes us quickly to the dilemma of Damon as John Grady Cole, whose grandfather’s money-losing ranch is being sold despite Cole’s life-long wish to continue a cowboy life. He and his pard, Lacey, riding purloined horses, light out for Mexico where they hear there are still huge ranches. En route, they meet up with a young teen-ager who gets them embroiled in legal difficulties when the youngster tries to recover his stolen horse and gun, killing a Mexican officer in the process.

The boy disappears and Lacey and Cole ride off, ultimately finding a large ranchero where Cole and Lacey’s bronco breaking abilities earn them jobs. Cole gets involved with Alejandra, the beautiful daughter of the ranchero’s wealthy patron. The family, outraged by the impropriety and having heard of the earlier difficulties, have the two Americans arrested.

Cole and Lacey find themselves in a Mexican prison reunited with the impulsive teen-ager and in the hands of a sadistic Capitan. Imprisoned, they helplessly look on while the officer has the boy shot. Cole gets badly injured in a knife fight with another prisoner, losing sight of Lacey. After he recovers, Cole learns that he has been bailed out. Alejandra has persuaded her family to do so by promising never to see him again—attesting to her love.

Cole, unable to persuade Alejandra to break her vow and marry him, kidnaps the sadistic officer and uses him as a hostage, enabling Cole to recover the horses that had been taken from him and his two companions. He leaves el Capitan to an uncertain future with a former prisoner, and rides back to Texas to be reunited with Lacey.

Psychologically, the story revolves around three sets of loyalties. The first is the one between the three cowboys. The second is between the two lovers, Cole and Alejandra. The third is between Alejandra and her family, especially her father. Alejandra reinstates the Oedipal link to her father by disowning her sexual tie to Cole. The film contrives closure by Cole’s avenging the death of the teen-ager and rejoining his pard, Lacey. And Cole seems, at the end, satisfied by the bromance.

Maybe all good oaters have that pre-genital quality.

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