‘Lean on Pete’ Leaves Us All Scarred by Love and Kindness

By Tracy Wang

A boy forced to go on a cross-country journey with a horse, ‘Lean on Pete’ is one beautiful and heartbreaking tale on how a boy finds his way home again after losing everyone he loves. Based on the book of the same name by Willy Vlautin, ‘Lean on Pete’ slowly burns through our mind, and leaves us thinking and wondering about life in a way that only a boy and his horse could achieve.

Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer), a fifteen-year-old boy, lives with his single father in a shabby house in Portland, Oregon, and desires to establish a normal life here once again, but everything else seems to be in his way. His father is not bringing enough money home, and he is dating countless women who never stay for long. An opportunity arises when he meets Del (Steven Vincent Buscemi), a man who owns some horses and who races them to live, and is offered some odd tasks to earn some cash. Desperate for some company and cash for groceries, Charley takes on the tasks, and for the first time, gets to know some horses.

Getting to know the horses as if they are human beings, Charley instantly likes a horse named Lean on Pete. Though he is repeatedly warned by Del and others to treat Lean on Pete like a horse instead of a pet, he befriends the horse; however, when Lean on Pete loses a horse race, the horse’s life is in danger, and when Del tells Charley Lean on Pete is bound for a slaughterhouse, he begins a cross-country escape with Lean on Pete. Will they be able to escape and find a home?

‘Lean on Pete’ can be said to have a rather simple and even common storyline where a boy falls in love with his horse, but the film manages to shake much of its potential sentimentality away with its sharp and realistic take on life.

With its deeply romantic narrative of a boy rescuing a horse bound for a slaughterhouse, the film has many of its plot points in danger of being overly sentimental, and having the audiences shedding much tears along the way. However, the director manages to mix in lots of complex characters who are both cruel and humane, and builds a film that is not an instant tearjerker, but a tale that elicits deep sorrow, loneliness and helplessness that stay with us long after the movie ends.

A film on horse, ‘Lean on Pete’ shows us all kinds of human emotions and nature through how the characters come to treat or live with Lean on Pete. Do people love the horse just for who it is, a race horse who is not at its prime anymore? Or do people love it for what it could bring for them? We can easily identify who the ‘bad guy’ is and who the ‘good guy’ is through their interactions with the horses, but the way the film is written and shot makes it so much harder to really distinguish between virtue and sin.

We see these characters who are brought up in different ways, and we want to judge them for what they do and decide for other creatures, but in the end, with the complexity of these characters, all we can say or feel is a deep sense of helplessness and empathy toward the harsh reality that is driving so many of us to make both wanted and unwanted decisions.

However, we are sure of one thing; as soon as the movie starts, and we see a teenage boy jogging and his sports trophies on his windowsill, we fall in love with this boy played by Plummer who asks the name of the horse and cares about whether the horse is hurting or not. His kindness and big heart for loving the ones who need love are the heartbeat of this film, and carry us through all the hardships thrown in his way.

As much as we all love the character of Charley, and we are relieved in seeing him finding his aunt at the end of the film, ‘Lean on Pete’ is a rather disturbing and difficult film to watch, because even though it moves away from all the sentimentality, we are broken alongside Charley, because of all the deaths, hunger and harsh reality that are what builds this society. The film slowly burns through our skin, and leaves undoubtable marks on us.

‘Lean on Pete’ puts our lives into perspective with that of Charley’s, and challenges us on how much or how far we are willing to go or sacrifice in the name of finding home, or in the name of love, but most of all, it is a marvelous film that shows us how much we need kindness in this realistic world, and how much we depend on love to get by every single day.