When I first watched Thoroughbreds, I came away irritated. Some people seem to regard it as a black comedy, though it’s only sporadically funny. And I was surprised to learn it’s apparently not based on a stage play, because it’s only got a handful of characters, 80 percent of it takes place in a single location, and it’s very talky.
But none of this is what bothered me. What bothered me is that the three main characters in the film are very clearly psychopathic. The story involves two teenage girls -- one of them deemed a troublemaker, the other a prototypical rich girl -- as they try to figure out how to deal with the rich girl’s emotionally abusive stepfather. What starts off as the girls’ general frustration eventually goes down a very dark path, with very dark results.
And I just found the whole thing entirely unpleasant. Here were characters nearly impossible to like, doing things that are nearly impossible to defend, and even if the universe often doesn’t dispense true justice, the lack of anything redeeming at all from how these people behave just made me question the point of the whole thing.
But then I had a conversation with my colleague Hugo, and he suggested that I look at the actions and motives of one of the characters a little differently. He argued that what this character was doing wasn’t as self-serving as I took it, and that the movie actually had some interesting things to say about empathy, albeit in its own twisted way.
And you know what? I think maybe he’s right. I think I misread the intention behind that character’s actions, and it really opens the story up to be more complex than I first saw. It’s still incredibly bleak, but it’s not nihilistic, and for me, that makes all the difference.
I still don’t love Thoroughbreds; it left me very cold, and with no good feelings. But I appreciate Hugo’s perspective, and if you’re as insightful as he is, the movie just might work for you.