The Horse Whisperer

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
The Horse Whisperer Movie Poster Image
Gorgeous, slow-paced '90s horse drama has mature themes.
  • PG-13
  • 1998
  • 168 minutes

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Positive Messages

It's important to find your place in the world. People should tell themselves the truth. Compassion, patience, and understanding can help pave the way to communication. While self-control is important, one can be in control all the time. It's important to let go of useless obsessions. When life gets difficult, don't give up and hide; stay and fight.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A woman considers cheating on her husband but decides against it for the sake of her family. A man who lost a love allows himself to love again. A girl who loses her leg finds a reason to live.


A girl and her horse are killed in a collision with a truck. The impact is blurred so the gore is minimized, but a horse's bloody wounds are shown. Another girl and horse are badly injured.  


A man and woman who have been working together are suddenly aware they're attracted to each other, conveyed in long stares and a momentary touch. They kiss passionately fully clothed.


"S--t," "hell," "damn," "Jesus," "Christ," "SOB."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink wine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Horse Whisperer is a 1998 movie based on the Nicholas Evans novel of the same name. It depicts an accident that kills a girl and her horse and seriously injures another girl and horse. Those deaths and injuries inform all aspects of the rest of the nearly three-hour story. The surviving girl and horse both undergo gentle but firm therapy, and the famous Robert Redford-directed piece epically covers their slow and painful progress with beauty and eloquence. Profanity includes "s--t," "hell," "damn," "Jesus," "Christ," and "SOB."  Finding one's place in the world, letting go, and the nature of love are all themes, which lead to a married woman deciding if she values her family above her personal needs.

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What's the story?

In THE HORSE WHISPERER, a 13-year-old girl (Scarlett Johansson) loses her leg in a riding accident that also traumatizes and nearly kills her horse. Her high-powered New York magazine editor mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) drives the depressed girl and damaged horse to Montana for therapy with a man known as a "horse whisperer" (Robert Redford). The camera dwells on the wide expanses of Montana vista, paralleling the whisperer's unhurried therapy technique, one that takes the long view. He leaves lots of space for the horse to come around on his own. His patience and taciturn gentleness help the girl heal as well. In watching the horse's transformation, it appears that everyone involved also comes away gentler, more patient, and more understanding of themselves and others.

Is it any good?

As directed with serene intensity by Redford, viewers get to move in and live in this movie for its nearly three-hour running time, and it's a memorable stay. Redford plays the whisperer of the title, a gentle rancher who waits patiently for a frightened horse, a wounded girl, and her tightly wound mother to trust him and thereby find peace in themselves. Performances are as beautiful as the scenery is magnificent. The young and eerily precocious Scarlett Johansson already has the stillness and intelligence of her later work. Kristin Scott Thomas as the high-strung mother is both pitiable and magnetizing, ready to be humanized by her attraction to the sensitive rancher. The Horse Whisperer is about letting go of old pain, useless baggage, and self-destructive ways. Although it does not advise that love conquers all, it does advocate for love's healing power.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the filmmakers decided to tell the story at a slower pace than many of today's movies. Does the slow pacing of The Horse Whisperer have an echo in the story being told? (Is the rancher's ability to communicate with the horse linked to his unhurried manner?)

  • Does it seem as if there's a parallel between the slow recovery of the horse and the recovery of the girl? What aspects of plot, editing, and direction support that?

  • What does the movie seem to say about the responsibility of a parent to a child? Does it advocate parents making sacrifices for their children? Which part of the movie suggests that?

  • How does the film want viewers to feel about natural beauty, wide-open spaces, and country living, as opposed to city living?

  • How do the characters in The Horse Whisperer demonstrate communication and self-control? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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