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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Thoroughbreds

Juicy and Delicious


Thoroughbreds is a juicy and delicious noir drama that deals with wealth, privilege, standards and morality. In suburban Connecticut, emotionally empty Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and wealthy Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) rekindle their friendship after meeting up for standardized test-tutoring. Lily’s icy stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks) is a sadistic monster and as he continues to tighten his control over Lily’s life, Amanda’s jokes about killing him don’t seem so funny anymore. As Amanda’s aptness grows and the girls plan Mark’s murder, Amanda’s dislocation of normalcy that has always scared and captivated Lily starts to surface in unpredictable ways.


Olivia Cooke is hilarious as Amanda, but not to the point where you can’t take her seriously. For someone so unhinged, she speaks many truths. She states that she doesn’t have any feelings about anything, ever. She says this doesn’t make her a bad person, it just means she has to work a little harder than everyone else to be good. Amanda is clearly trapped in this unspoken isolation she doesn’t even feel, but there’s something dangerously liberating in her insanity. She’s not a sociopath, but she is. She’s a very confusing character that you’ll change your mind about over and over again.


There’s no debate that there’s no one else like her. She says to Lily at one point that if they’re going to kill Mark, it’s because it’s the right thing to do, not because Lily is upset and going through a hard time. Amanda is not saying what she feels is true, she’s saying what she thinks is true. She has no hesitation in her beliefs. She tells Lily the only thing worse than being incompetent, unkind or evil is being indecisive. She doesn’t question her morality because she doesn’t hold herself to any particular standard to do so.


Lily, on the other hand, holds herself to very high standards. It’s expected of her in the privileged society she’s grown up in. By holding herself to the same standards others hold her to, she’s the one in control of the situation. She intentionally treats herself as though she’s a thoroughbred horse. She’s very disciplined. She has to be perfect and she lives inside that persona. The persona that people see as someone who always gets the best grades, gets into the best Ivy League schools and does well at the best internships.


Amanda has a freedom Lily wants, but doesn’t want at the same time. Amanda is like a drug Lily keeps coming back to. A drug she’s not addicted to, but for some strange reason continues to use. She’s so visibly disturbed the first time Amanda jokes about killing Mark, that she banishes her from the house. Mark’s selfishness and total disregard for human life makes Lily observe him in ways she hadn’t before. It’s as though she’s contemplating what his life is worth. She desperately wants to kill him, but not if she has to feel guilty about it.


Anya Taylor-Joy is completely mesmerizing in her portrayal of Lily. It’s very strange to feel so out of your element and partake in things you thought you’d never do. Taylor-Joy gives audiences a raw and honest portrait of someone struggling with that. It’s also important to remember that Amanda and Lily are at that place in their lives where they’re becoming their own women and developing their own value systems. I feel that young people today have a lot of pressure from a moral perspective. So much has happened before their time, it’s as though they have a responsibility to fix problems that started happening years ago. By being born into massive wealth, you have an extra responsibility to be amazing because you have opportunities generations before you would have killed to have. That’s something films ought to explore more because it’s a real thing going on. Thoroughbreds is absolutely an adult film, the two main characters just happen to be teens.


Paul Sparks’ performance reminds me of what it must be like to watch your hand turn black from snake venom. Mark is a snake. There’s one confrontation scene towards the end with so much tension, your hands will freeze and you’ll run them under hot water and that will feel so fantastic. Mark tells Lily why he sees her as an entitled brat. It’s a great monologue because he’s really talking about himself. He’s really trying to say, “I’m selfish, life needs to knock me around a little bit, I need to grow up, I couldn’t ever understand someone else’s perspective and without money, I’m nothing.” He has too much shame and pride to admit it, so he says it about her.


You can see in this scene the extent of how he’s hurting her and he knows he’s doing it. Seeing her struggle to hold back her tears only gives him more to say to her. It’s almost sexual, the snide nature of how he talks to her. He’s so cruel and powerful, there’s this rotten weed inside him that gets off on it. Hatred is power to him, and that turns him on. Lily’s youth, beauty and the sincerity of her maturity for her age are all things Mark envies. Seeing a wealthy straight white male feel such unspoken intimidation towards someone he oppresses was beyond refreshing for me. He feels so insecure by her. All bullies feel insecure, but that an intelligent, young teenage girl with her whole life ahead of her is who does this to him just felt so empowering to me and I’m not even a woman.


There’s another scene after the one I mentioned where Mark is playing tennis and sees Lily calmly staring at him. The way he looks back at her, you can just tell he knows that she knows he was talking about himself when he broke her down. He still has the upper hand financially but something big has clearly shifted between them.


The late Anton Yelchin (Whom Thoroughbreds is dedicated to) is arguably the film’s moral compass. His character Tim is a drug dealer who Amanda and Lily blackmail into doing their dirty work. He clearly has his own bias on the wealthy, but also his own fascination. He’s living in a fantasy world about how things will be different for him one day and Amanda in particular knows how to yank that out of him and dangle it over him like a puppet string.


Amanda, Lily, Mark and Tim are used to living in their own worlds regardless if they like it or not. By associating with one another, there’s this tiny spark of control they no longer have. The backyard of Mark’s mansion has a huge human size stone chessboard with actual chess pieces. Amanda intentionally rearranges them in front of Lily at one point. All four of them are chess pieces playing against one another. Each of them obtain this internal fabrication. They’re all fighting to come out on top and get to a place where they can win in the end. It really doesn’t matter what the actual facts are, they’re all going off on what they believe to be the truth.


Thoroughbreds is one of the 2010’s decade’s most intoxicating and unforgettable films. When you're done watching it, you feel like you have too much sap from a maple tree on your hands. The sap is tenacious and sweet, but what’s tenacious and sweet can be deceptive. You can wash your hands with soap and water but some bit of flesh on your skin will always feel tenacious. You can never get it off.



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