Story

Buck is a documentary that tells the story of Buck Brannaman (who appears in the movie). Buck is the man who inspired the Nicholas Evan’s novel The Horse Whisperer and the 1998 movie of the same name starring Robert Redford (who also appears in this movie). Buck is a horse trainer who spends nine months of each year travelling across America conducting clinics on ‘natural horsemanship’.

In the movie, Buck’s students bring unruly horses to Buck. Without whips or restraints, he transforms the horses into willing animals that do exactly what he tells them to do. The movie is as much about the people who bring their horses to Buck’s clinics as it is about the horses. As Buck puts it, ‘A lot of the time, rather than helping people with horse problems, I’m helping horses with people problems’.

The movie also tells us about Buck’s traumatic life as a young boy. Buck and his brother were systematically and violently abused by their father until the authorities discovered the abuse.

Themes

Child abuse; animal cruelty and suffering

Violence

This movie contains references to systematic and long-term physical abuse of children. It also shows brief images of violence to horses and images of real-life injuries, including some blood and gore. For example:

  • Buck talks about abusive incidents from his childhood. One time, his father got very drunk and woke him and his brother in the middle of a winter’s night. He made them sit at the kitchen table, but Buck ran outside and hid in the dog kennel to escape his father’s violent rage. On another occasion, he was beaten mercilessly for not performing perfectly in a television commercial.
  • A woman talks about being attacked by a horse that reared up and stomped on her golf buggy. She shows a scar on her chest from the horse’s bite.
  • Later in the movie, the same horse savagely attacks a man, knocking him down, chasing him and biting him on the forehead. There’s a bloody gash on the man’s forehead, and blood runs down the front of his face. He says the cut was through to the bone.

Content that may disturb children

Under 8

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight. For example:

  • Buck talks about how he was terrified of his mother leaving him alone with his father when she went to work. When his mother was home, he had some protection from his father’s abuse. He talks about his mother dying, the suffering caused by his father’s abuse, and the lasting effects of this trauma on his life.
  • A man who knew Buck as a child tells about a time when Buck had to take a shower for gym class at school. When Buck took off his shirt, there were whip marks on his back from his father’s abuse. There were also purple bruises on Buck’s legs and thighs. The man cries as he tells this story.
  • A woman talks about Buck as a child being taken from his home by authorities in the middle of the night.
  • Old footage shows horse handlers restraining a bucking horse with ropes tied to a pole while they relentlessly whip the horse.
  • Buck talks about some horse trainers digging spurs into their horse’s shoulders and tying bicycle chains across the horse’s nose.
  • After a horse violently attacks and injures a man, the horse is taken away to be ‘put down’. 

From 8-13

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the stories of child abuse and the images of cruelty to animals described above. 

Over 13

Some children in this age group might also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above. 

Sexual references

This movie has one low-level sexual reference. This is when Buck talks about watching a TV show. In the show, a woman talks about how the greatest aphrodisiac for women is watching their husbands use a vacuum cleaner. 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

This movie has one scene that shows alcohol being served. There’s also one reference to drunkenness, when Buck talks about his father being drunk during Buck’s childhood. 

Nudity and sexual activity

None of concern 

Product placement

None of concern 

Coarse language

The movie contains occasional low-level coarse language. 

Ideas to discuss with your children

Buck is an inspiring and fascinating documentary, which is likely to interest a wide-ranging audience of older adolescents and adults. It would be difficult to be untouched by this man’s remarkable ability to communicate with horses, or his philosophy and outlook on life. But the movie is also confronting at times, with images and themes likely to disturb children and younger teenagers.

The movie has several important messages:

  • You should never forget the bad things that happen to you in life, but you don’t have to live with the past.
  • Learning about how to treat horses is also learning about how to treat other people.
  • Fear isn’t respect – it’s just acceptance.
  • Bribery doesn’t work – it just breeds contempt.
  • ‘Your horse is a mirror to your soul, and sometimes you might not like what you see.’

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include turning adversity to strength. Rather than being destroyed by his early suffering and abuse, Buck uses these experiences to understand, communicate with and train horses. He does this so well that he becomes a famous leader in the field of natural horsemanship.