The Turin Horse (2012)



Critic Consensus: Uncompromisingly bold and hauntingly beautiful, Bela Tarr's bleak parable tells a simple story with weighty conviction.

Movie Info

On January 3, 1889 in Turin, Italy, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Albert. Not far from him, a cab driver is having trouble with a stubborn horse. The horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse's neck, sobbing. After this, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan, until he loses consciousness and his mind. Somewhere in the … More

Rating: Unrated
Genre: Art House & International, Drama
Directed By: ,
Written By: Bela Tarr, László Krasznahorkai
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jul 17, 2012
Box Office: $53.7k
Cinema Guild - Official Site


as Ohlsdorfer

as Ohlsdorfer's Daughte...

as Horse, The Horse

Friend Ratings

No Friends? Inconceivable! Log in to see what your friends have to say.


Critic Reviews for The Turin Horse

All Critics (51) | Top Critics (18)

This great poem on the end of the world is truly a film for the ages. It can't really be described, but only lived.

Full Review… | September 18, 2014
Top Critic

No movie could possibly live up to the monumental, forbidding grandeur of The Turin Horse's lengthy opening shot, but [Bela Tarr]... goes ahead and attempts the impossible, and comes frighteningly close to succeeding.

Full Review… | January 8, 2013
L.A. Weekly
Top Critic

"The Turin Horse" is a parable, which means it's both very simple and very weighty. It's not about event and emotion, but duration and endurance.

Full Review… | June 28, 2012
Boston Globe
Top Critic

It feels like the creation story in reverse -- a terrible, unavoidable walk into the dark.

Full Review… | May 31, 2012
Time Out
Top Critic

Through Tarr's meticulous vision, these ordinary hardships take on cosmic weight; this is tedium vividly rendered.

Full Review… | April 6, 2012
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

An intentionally monotonous look at the lives of a farmer and his daughter. Strange events signal the end is nigh, but it approaches at the pace of a lethargic inchworm.

Full Review… | March 16, 2012
Washington Post
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Turin Horse

The Turin Horse offers all of the fun of burying your grandmother, without the comfort of having the rest of your family near. Bleak, full of mysterious beauty that is hard to put your finger on, and endlessly-bordering on obnoxiously-long. And once it is done one thing is for sure, you hope you never have to experience it again.

Reid Volk

Super Reviewer


It's quite the season for ambitious but disappointing high-art cinema in New York. On the heels of Nuri Ceylan's "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" comes the NY release of the highly avant-garde "The Turin Horse," from Hungarian bad boy Bela Tarr. The two films have a lot in common. They can now add to their long list of commonalities that they received a 5 rating from me.

In my write-up on "Anatolia," I described it as dirge-like. "Turin Horse" is even more funereal. Whereas "Anatolia" depicted human society in tatters, "Turin Horse" contemplates the end of life itself, much as Lars von Trier's "Melancholia" did, a third dirge-like high-art film on the worldwide festival circuit in 2011. Why is the European male avant-garde so depressed as of late -- and why are their films so disappointing?

"The Turin Horse" is set in the late 19th century, in a very remote corner of Hungary. A middle-aged male peasant and his adult daughter live alone. Their only livestock is a horse. These three creatures go about their daily life with their heads down, performing one mundane task after another and eating one meal a day. The horse eats hay; the humans eat (with their hands) one boiled potato per day. Tarr has us watch them eat on several occasions. Rarely have humans been compared to livestock more effectively.

But something is very strange in this world. An enormous wind storm makes it almost impossible to go outdoors. The long opening sequence shows the man and horse struggling to travel along a muddy dirt road with the massive gale at their faces. Eventually they make it back to their hovel, where the daughter silently feeds them and gets them ready for bed. The next morning, the wind hasn't died down at all.

Lucky us, we get to watch these wretched creatures wordlessly go about their daily routines for a couple more hours (total running time of "Turin" is two-and-a-half hours) while a short, annoying piece of dissonant music plays ceaselessly on the soundtrack. It resembles the sound of sick cows whining (or over-educated male intellectuals whining about their lives lacking fulfillment). I think it plays about 50 times during the screening, adding to the Chinese-water-torture quality of the film. Also on the mind-numbing soundtrack: the incessant sound of the wind.

A couple things happen at the end of "Turin Horse" that break the monotony and provide some dramatic resolution. I won't give away the details, but there is a change in the weather finally -- not for the better.

Awkwardly wrapped around this maddeningly minimalist film (which is shot in black-and-white, incidentally) is a contemplation of Friedrich Nietzsche's famous breakdown in 1889 at about the age of 45 when he was visiting the Italian city of Turin.

As legend has it, the quasi-demonic philosopher witnessed a horse being brutally whipped by its owner. In a fit of rage and pathos, Nietzsche threw his arms around the horse, sobbing inconsolably. Unable to (or refusing to) regain lucidity, he was taken to a mental hospital and never returned to normal life. He remained in the daily care of relatives for the last 10 years of his life, considered to be mentally ill. For years, most thought his mental state was caused by syphilis, but that has been drawn into question recently.

Tarr didn't just title the film in a way to demonstrate this reference to Nietzsche, he also begins the film with a narration that briefly describes the philosopher's breakdown.

Tarr may not be a great artist, but he is an authentic one. (I would say the same of Ceylan and Trier.) Thus there are some interesting things to contemplate here. On one level, it seems that Tarr is experiencing some kind of break with bourgeois civilization in a way that reminds him of Nietzsche's experience.

On another level, it seems that Tarr feels that capitalist civilization is literally destroying life, a sentiment I certainly share, at least on some levels and at some times. But while there are interesting ideas behind the project, "Turin Horse" doesn't capture these ideas very effectively. Spending two hours watching livestock (human and otherwise) on a death march is not artistically enriching for me. I'd rather spend that two hours reading Nietzsche's "Antichrist."

Bill D 2007
William Dunmyer

Super Reviewer

The story goes: "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."

Nietzsche is never specifically mentioned again after the opening voice-over, but I decided that he must be important in the viewing or understanding of The Turin Horse, because it starts off with that story. Nietzsche, despite the amount of misunderstood teenagers you see in God Is Dead t-shirts, was a very life-affirming guy. His doctrine of Eternal Recurrence asked the reader the question would you live your life eternally, rather than die?, and the idea was if you said "yes!" then you were a winner, and if you said "oh dear God, no!" then you should probably re-evaluate the way you live. In a rather cunning way, the story above describes Nietzsche as a madman, and with the concluding we do not know what happened to the horse, Tarr decides to ask his audience "would you live your life eternally, rather than die?" using the horse and driver from the story above as his subject.

There's one passage in Nietzsche's Ecce Homo that comes to mind when watching the film: "My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it . . . but love it." Appropriately then, The Turin Horse hardly moves forward, nor backwards, and as its detractors might note, does in fact feel like it takes eternity! Different scenes come slowly following the same ideas and basic composition, only the camera has moved to remind us that this is in fact a new day. Although I admire Tarr for being convicted enough in his ideas to actually do this, I completely understood the huge amount of people walking out of the theatres saying things like "Oh God, I'm over watching them eat potatoes!" At one stage, the characters decide to leave their isolated house and head up a hill, only to turn back again and this brings to mind Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus, cementing Tarr's pessimism and the suspicion I had that these characters are meant to represent all of mankind. There is a character who is intentionally Nietzschean here, like there was in Werckmeister Harmonies, only here he's not violent like The Prince was, but more a pessimistic prophet. Tarr described him as "a sort of Nietzschean shadow", which confuses me given Nietzsche's optimism, but this hardly matters. For Tarr, optimism belongs to the insane, and repetition and nihilism remains for the rest of us.

The repetitive structure of the film is complimented by its overall simplicity and pureness: this is the most pure and yet difficult film I have ever seen. It is entirely suitable then for nihilistic parable; those leaving because they can't stand the repetition might add to Tarr's statement on mankind, The Turin Horse is a mirror into which we're meant to look and see a simplified version of ourselves. Post-apocalyptic, post-faith, post-belief, and post-optimism. Obviously the film's audience might not be too happy accepting this, I'm a pessimistic person but don't really agree with it. It's hard to deny though that he achieves everything he sets out to, with this pure, frequently beautiful and truly harrowing work. A conversation between the insane and reality, pessimism and optimism, even if it does seem cheeky that he responds to Nietzsche's response to nihilism with, well, nihilism.

Max Coombes
Max Coombes

Super Reviewer

The Turin Horse Quotes

– Submitted by Mike M (2 years ago)

Discussion Forum

Discuss The Turin Horse on our Movie forum!