Somehow my wife conned me into watching a pre-teen girl’s Aussie horse fantasy from 1982, “The Man from Snowy River”. At first I thought the film was a made for TV movie. The production values were not awfully high, clearly, but the characters themselves had that made for TV movie charm. Despite being in a movie about Australian cowpokes, the actors all had perfectly clean clothes and skin. Perhaps the costumes were all rented, because there is no other reason to completely eviscerate believability by dressing manure slinging farmhands in perfectly pressed 3-piece suits. But I digress.
The whole point of the movie appears to be a love story between a poor boy from the mountains and the daughter of a wealthy rancher, sort of a a heterosexual "Brokeback Mountain". Soon enough, though I realized that this movie was actually something much worse, a coming of age story. While most of us non-fictional folk take a good decade to come of age and quietly realize in our early 30s that we ended up living responsibly, kids in movies come of age in single summer after fornicating and/or standing up to the man. Add in some horses and inappropriate adulation and you have "The Man from Snowy River".
The film starts out innocently enough. Jim’s mother is dead and he and his father plan on taming a herd of wild horses to make money. Then one of wild horses, a majestic black stallion that brings his own back lighting, leads the "brumbies", as the Aussie mountain men call them, past Jim and his dad. The poor kid’s horse is spooked and drops a tree onto his dad, killing him. One of Jims’ horses runs off with the herd and his other horse is injured and needs to be put down, i.e. shot in the head. Not only did that black stallion kill his dad, he also stole the boy’s horse. Let the love story begin.
Let us skip over the tripe flirtations between Jim and the daughter of the wealthy cattleman. The highlight of the film is young Jim’s much anticipated ride after the brumbies. The cattleman has assembled a small army of realistically bearded mountain men to chase down the wild horses. So Jim is not only going up against that black stallion, he also needs to show up every single mountain man in a thirty mile radius.
The posse is hot on the heals of the wild horses when the horses run down a cliff. Nothing turns a mountain man into a pussy faster than the specter of death, and the posse comes to a stop at the cliff’s edge. Jim comes riding up and, well in Whoville they say, his balls grew three sizes that day. He rides past the incredulously well dressed and wholly emasculated posse of extras and charges right down that cliff, leaning back, and totally endangering the life of his stunt horse. Then, in a sequence reminiscent of Gandalf’s fight against the Balrog as recapped in "Lord of the Rings, the Two Towers", Jim chases down the brumbies through rivers, scorching plains, snow covered mountains, and finally into the heart of a an active volcano for the final showdown with the brumbies’ dark leader. The leader being the black stallion, hence the description of the leader as dark.
By this time in the film, an experienced horseman had already tried to subdue the black stallion. Despite the older gentleman’s long and perfectly groomed mustache and set of perfectly clean designer horse riding clothes, he was no match for the horse’s wild spirit. In fact, as alluded to us earlier in the movie, this horse had the wild spirit of no less than a suffrage minded teenage girl trapped in the antiquity of a turn of the century Australian cattle ranch. Mr. Mustache man never stood a chance.
But now that Jim had chased down the brumbies, he has his big chance to break that black stallion, which is in no way a metaphor for conquering the virginity of a teenage girl. This was a serious scene and we can see Jim’s face is visibility dirty for the first time in an hour and a half of traipsing through mud and horse manure. Oh, it’s on now!
Jim cracks his whip at the brumbies but his greatest weapon is his intense coming of age stare, a stare so shaking you might notice the trickle of blood flowing from Jim’s nose. An ordinary horse’s head would explode from such a stare. It is a testament to the wildness of the black stallion was merely dominated by Jim’s will.
Having conquered his greatest foe, Jim triumphantly drives the wild horses down from the mountains. So magnificent is Jim’s resolved manhood that his girlfriend has a spontaneous orgasm just looking at him. Some of the men in the posse have one too. "He’s a man now" one grizzled old coot says. Mr. Mustache responds "He’s the man from snow river".