Sarah Kremen-Hicks takes another longing look at Viggo Mortensen’s Hidalgo, otherwise known as Aragorn of Arabia, a film that’s most definitely only about how remarkable horses are . . . which means you should all watch it with War Horse. Right now. Preferably with an eight-year-old and not a forty-year-old.

Hidalgo poster

Sometime in 2003[1], I went on a third date[2] with a guy who, in hindsight, was completely wrong for me. We all do stupid things in our early twenties. I skipped out of work early and saved us a spot in line at Pacific Place. I had emailed him that morning to say that I’d gotten us tickets, to which he replied “Aragorn of Arabia, huh? Okay.” He may have been a bit of a git, but he had a way with words, and I’ve never been able to think of Hidalgo by any other name.

When Hidalgo initially came out, we all though Viggo Mortensen was going to be big, but his horsey bromance didn’t really catapult him to fame and glory. (IMDB tells me, however, that he’s still steadily appearing in things I’ve never heard of. Good on you, Viggo!) Perhaps it would have helped if he hadn’t been playing Aragorn in a cowboy hat, complete with mysterious Elvish Sioux wisdom, mystical mixed-race upbringing, a tendency to lapse into subtitles, and a Very Meaningful Necklace.

If I were a good reviewer, I’d talk about the fact that this film is all about how a white guy gains mystic wisdom by interacting with the racial other and watching experiencing their suffering as his own, and how it propels him to do amazing feats of featliness, win lots of money, and nobly save the wild mustangs and free his bestest horsey friend. But I’m the woman who likes to make lists, so let’s pause here only long enough for me to cop to either missing or having forgotten all of the craptacular racial politics in this film (It’s okay because his mother was Sioux! Even though he never gives any indication of that! And he’s played by a white dude!), and move on to: 

8 reasons why Aragorn of Arabia is a terrible date movie, and a perfect one to watch with an eight-year-old

  1. Eight-year-olds don’t mind if you hold their hand during the tense bits. As opposed to 40-somethings, who are far too cool for that, and think you’re a bit of an idiot for pawing at them.
  2. Eight-year-olds are just as enthusiastic about makeshift spear-throwing and falcons scratching people’s eyes out as you are, and don’t give you side eyes when you forget to stifle your evil chuckles.
  3. An eight-year-old will listen to many sentences of your chatter about Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty” and how “Glory be to God for dappled things” is about horses like Hidalgo without his eyes glazing over, although he will interrupt to ask you for a snack.
  4. Similarly, an eight-year-old will allow you to pause the film and tell him all about parallels to Scheherazade and slave Leia. He will become very excited about the slave Leia bit.
  5. A date will absolutely understand that you mostly wanted to see this because Viggo was really hot in the Battle of Helm’s Deep, and may make you feel bad about this. An eight-year-old will not care, but will be very excited when you point out that the guy on the horse is also Aragorn.
  6. An eight-year-old will give you a hug when you start crying because the horse got hurt. A 40-something will pretend not to notice, and force you to scrounge for your own tissue, which is actually a grungy napkin covered in popcorn salt.
  7. Eight-year-olds are totally cool with the fact that you still sometimes secretly want a pony. They would like one, too, and are happy to point out which of the herd in the final scene they would like to take home and love/hug/refer to as George. 40-somethings think you ought to be a grown-up, which, as we all know, is mug’s game.
  8. 40-somethings are jaded, whereas an eight-year-old will ask “but why would they round all the horses up and shoot them?” in a tone that reminds you that, yeah, that’s a damned fine question that deserves a good answer.

All of which is to say, always watch movies with eight-year-olds rather than grown men. Everyone will have a much better time, and no one will care if you bounce around the sofa while the racing is happening. But be prepared with an explanation for why you have to shoot a horse that’s broken its leg.

[1] It was a preview screening

[2] Or so. Early days, in any case, although this was not a relationship that had late days.

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