It is believed that on January 3rd, 1889, German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed a cabman brutally whipping his stubborn horse in the streets of Turin, Italy. Horrified, Nietzsche runs to the aid of the horse, tossing his arms around the animal, in an attempt to protect it. He collapses to the ground during the incident, sobbing uncontrollably. Nietzsche's landlord carries him home where it is further believed that he suffers a mental breakdown. He spends the remainder of his life in a catatonic state, cared for by his mother and sisters. Whatever happened to the horse remains unknown to this day.
Writer/Director Bela Tarr uses the incident with Nietzsche and the horse as a "jumping off" point for his fictional story, The Turin Horse. Though it is never seen in the film, the viewer is led to believe that the man who whipped his horse is a rural farmer by the name of Ohlsdorfer (Janos Derzsi.) He makes his living by taking carting jobs into the city with his (very old) horse and cart. The opening scene following the prologue shows Ohlsdorfer driving his worn down horse through an eerily apocalyptic-type storm, and back home to his farm where he lives with his daughter (Erika Bok.) The man and his daughter are beyond poor. Living in a single room brick house, their only daily source of nourishment is a boiled potato, and a shot of pálinka (whiskey.) Their daily routine is the same; waking up, fetch water, heat the stove for boiling the water, and tending to the horse. Ohlsdorfer's daughter must carry the burden of doing most of the daily chores, as Ohlsdorfer himself only has the use of one arm. It is easily surmised that the old man has led a hard life; he looks just as broken down as his horse does.
The narrative of the story takes place in a period of six days. Each day the storm gets progressively worse, as does the health of the horse. The horse refuses to eat, and will no longer pull the cart. As the days progress and the horse's health deteriorates, so does the hope that the old man and his daughter will escape their situation. It becomes more evident that the end of days are nearing for Ohlsdorfer and his daughter, but the question left to the audience would be... is it also the end of days for the rest of mankind? A neighbor who comes to visit the farm gives a speech about the end of days coming, to which Ohlsdorfer replies "that's rubbish."
What this Hungarian foreign film film lacks in dialogue (which in fact their is hardly any at all, save for the scene when the neighbor comes to visit), it makes up for by getting the viewer involved with the character's in the story. It truly goes to show that you don't need words to describe what is happening. The biblical references to revelations makes one think about that possibility; but what I truly enjoyed in this film is the simple acting, and a musical score that really makes one feel that the end of the world is coming for the old man and his daughter.