August 13, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
Norwegian and Swedish with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Norway and Sweden in three specific years (1948, 1956 and 1999), the dramatic film “Out Stealing Horses” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class.
Culture Clash: A reclusive 66-year-old man remembers a pivotal summer when he was 15 years old and when his family and a neighbor’s family experienced some turmoil that changed their lives forever.
Culture Audience: “Out Stealing Horses” will appeal primarily to fans of star Stellan Skarsgård and to people who like European arthouse films.
How does a person’s childhood define who that person is an adult? That question is posed in the dramatic film “Out Stealing Horses,” an often-morose character study that is partly a “coming of age” story and partly a “coming to terms” story, as one very reclusive man looks back on a turning point in his life.
Hans Petter Moland wrote and directed “Out Stealing Horses,” which is based on the Per Petterson novel of the same name. The beginning of the movie takes place in rural Norway in November 1999, when 66-year-old widowed retiree Trond Sander (played by Stellan Skarsgård) is settling in his isolated house during a snowy night. Trond says in a voiceover: “All my life I’ve dreamed of being in a place like this.”
Trond also says that he won’t be part of the village’s New Year’s Eve celebrations to usher in the new millennium, and that he’s looking forward to spending New Year’s Eve alone and drunk. Why is Trond so reclusive and seemingly depressed? Part of the reason is because his wife died three years earlier in a car accident in which Trond was driving the car and she was a passenger.
But there are other reasons why Trond doesn’t really like to be around other people. And those reasons are made clearer when Trond’s memories of a life-changing summer are triggered after he encounters a 61-year-old man named Lars Haug (played by Bjørn Floberg), who happens to be outside Trond’s home on that snowy November night.
Lars and Trond see each other because Lars has been out looking for his Border Collie dog Poker and calling the dog’s name. The dog eventually comes back to Lars, who introduces himself to Trond as one of the neighbors. There’s something a little mentally “off” about Lars, because while he was looking for his dog, he tells Trond an odd, random story about how when he was 19, he was forced to shoot a German Shepherd out of self-defense.
During the course of their conversation, Trond realizes that he knows Lars from when they were children, but they haven’t seen each other in decades. The movie then flashes back to the summer of 1948, when Trond was 15 years old and living as an only child with his parents in rural Norway. The parents in this story don’t have names, which is a symbolic
and psychological indication that Trond wants to block out some bad memories.
What happens in that flashback won’t be revealed here, but it’s enough to say that young Trond (played by Jon Ranes, in his film debut) and his stern, domineering father (played by Tobias Santelmann) have a tension-filled relationship. Trond’s mother (played by Beate Mostraumin) is loving but fairly passive.
Trond’s family is friendly with a neighbor family that includes a husband and wife (played by Pål Sverre Hagen and Danica Curcic); their 17-year-old son Jon (played by Sjur Vatne Brean); and their 10-year-old fraternal twin sons Lars (played by Torjus Hopland Vollan) and Odd. One day during that summer, when Jon and Trond go outside to steal some horses as a prank, Trond notices that Jon is acting very strangely. The lives of both families then become intertwined through a series of circumstances and choices.
Because the majority of the movie consists of the flashback scenes, Skarsgård isn’t in the movie has much as people might think he is. The heart of the movie really lies with young Trond, who has to grow up very quickly that summer, as he learns some harsh life lessons.
Ranes makes an impressive film debut in this role, since his character goes through the biggest transformation during his adolescence in the story. He perfectly captures the angst, vulnerability and bravado of a teenager going through some experiences that will impact him for the rest of his life.
As the older Trond looking back on his younger years, Skarsgård does a fine job as someone coming to terms with his past. By the end of the movie, it’s very clear why Trond has spent most of his life suppressing his emotions and why he has reached a point where he wants to become a recluse.
The movie’s direction, cinematography (by Rasmus Videbæk) and production design (by Jørgen Stangebye Larsen) expertly craft the emotional and physical contrasts of the worlds inhabited by young Trond and older Trond. The world of young Trond is brighter, bigger and filled with more hope and possibilities. The world of older Trond is cold, dark and lonely.
“Out Stealing Horses” is a solid movie that does a very good visual interpretation of the novel. Although the character of Trond is a specific person, the movie’s themes about family dynamics and childhood memories can resonate with many people.
Magnolia Pictures released “Out Stealing Horses” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 7, 2020. The movie was released in Europe in 2019.