The Rocking Horse Winner

Tue, 2010-08-31 23:42

** Spoiler Alert **

I just finished watching The Rocking Horse Winner, a British film from 1949 based on a short story by D. H. Lawrence. I found it very moving. The story is about a boy whose parents live beyond their means, and run into debt. There is a helpful uncle (the woman's brother) who bails them out periodically, but he has had it with them, and tells them that no further loans will be forthcoming. The boy, without really knowing the details of the situation, understands that his parents, his mother in particular, need money. Meanwhile, he has befriended Bassett, the new handyman/driver/gardener of the house (played by John Mills, who also produced the film). Bassett was once a stable boy, and occasionally raced horses. When the boy receives a rocking horse for Christmas, Bassett shows him how to ride it like a race horse.

Owing to the need for money, the boy and Bassett get to talking about betting on horse races. The boy has a seemingly magical knack for picking winners, at least partly related to his riding the rocking horse. Together, they win a lot of money, and arrange to give a large amount to his mother without letting her know from where it came. The extra money just make her more extravagant, and the need for money only increases. This causes the boy even greater anxiety and stress; he starts being unable to pick winners, until he rides the rocking horse in a terrible frenzy at great length, picks the derby winner, wins gobs of money, and dies.

I'm trying to understand why this movie moves me so much. I find the idea that there is good in the world appealing, and likely I have a personal need to believe this. The boy is good; he wants to help his mother, to make her happy. I like the idea that one who is good could concentrate their will, say, to such a great extent that supernatural things (like clairvoyantly learning the winners of future horse races) could happen, owing, say, to the supreme necessity of the power of good in the universe. I suppose I wish that this sort of thing were so very much.

It is also extremely touching that the boy would burn himself out, as it were, in an effort to help his mother. His ignorance of the relative importance of things, like life vs money, of course makes this more poignant, and well-meant sacrifice is always moving, I suppose.

I thought this movie just plain excellent.