Thoroughbreds is a dark teen murder comedy which has been likened to movies such as American Psycho and Heathers. Emily and guest blogger Mary Kay (from Everything Trying to Kill You) aren't interested in those comparisons though. They're more interested in digging into the movie for its own merits, specifically examining the characters Lily (left) and Amanda (right) and how they're complex identity struggles are really what's most interesting about this movie.
Spoiler: both Mary Kay and Emily loved Thoroughbreds. If you want to avoid any further spoilers, please wait to read this post until after you've seen the movie. You've been warned.
Emily: Hey, Mary Kay. Are you an Amanda or a Lily?
Mary Kay: Hey, Emily. I think I'm an Amanda. She has curly hair.
Emily: Oh word. I guess that means I'm Lily because she has straight hair.
Mary Kay: You right, you right. JK though... I mean Amanda DOES have curly hair, but I would rather BE an Amanda than a Lily... although I hope that I'm neither one.
Emily: Right. Hopefully we're somewhere in the middle, or not even on the Amanda/Lily spectrum.
Mary Kay: So I guess that's the end....
Emily: Cool, good talk. Bye everyone.
Emily: Okay, but really. We're here to talk about these two characters and dissect their journey and stuff. And who knows what else? I guess we'll see. Maybe Mary Kay knows.
Mary Kay: But seriously, okay, so director/writer Cory Finley has said that Lily has the capability for cruelty but not the capacity for it, and Amanda has the capacity for it but not the capability. If you think about it, the whole reason Amanda is stigmatized is because she kills her horse. "Her own horse," is what that doofy kid at the party says right before he hits on Lily, but she mercy-kills the horse. Granted, she fails a few times first... so it makes it seem like she tortured the horse, but then she takes us through the process while she's playing chess with herself, which is also an interesting artistic choice.
Emily: Right. She seems really cold and hardcore because, fuck, she kills a horse. But she did it out of love.
Mary Kay: Yeah. Well, kind of, right? Because MAYBE it's love, but what even is that? She just knew it was the morally right thing to do. The horse would never walk again. It would just wither. And according to BOTH girls, that's no quality of life.
Emily: So let's break down Amanda first then. You're taking the lead on this character. Here we go.
Mary Kay: So, well, I think I'm an Amanda. Or I like to think so. Which are you?
Emily: I'm probably an Amanda too. But I'm a Libra, so for the sake of balance, let's say I'm a Lily. But we'll get to her later.
Mary Kay: I am a Leo. So maybe it's that I WANT to be an Amanda, but I'm actually pretty tempestuous and would be more like a Lily IRL.
Emily: Interesting. What does it mean to be an Amanda? What is her deal? How does she change over the course of the movie? Or maybe more appropriately, how does our perception of her change?
Mary Kay: Okay, so when we see Amanda she's already creepy, and Lily even tells her that. And it's because she doesn't have feelings. Which, to me, means sociopath, right?
Emily: Right. We see her practicing emotional reactions in the mirror because she doesn't know how to do them and she feels like it's expected of her And I think that's the thing about her. She intuits what people want from her even though she doesn't naturally have emotions, and she tries to deliver.
Mary Kay: Yes. But she's REALLY good at imitating them. She's fooled people (and herself) for most of her life. When she says to Lily that she doesn't have feelings, she said, it's hard to explain, and it's hard to admit it to her own self.
Emily: Which, like, I can imagine, because sometimes I wonder, is this how I really feel or how I'm telling people I feel? So it must be like that for her, but like ALL THE TIME.
Mary Kay: Yeah, and so much of it gets lost in translation anyway.
Emily: And you don't know how other people experience emotions. So how would she know?
Mary Kay: Right. She's REALLY shooting in the dark. But I guess, if you have been practicing it your whole life, then you get pretty good at it. Also, she's SUPER intuitive, which could be really scary... and she KILLS it with the online poker.
Emily: She's learned to observe and understand people.
Mary Kay: We even see Lily in the beginning try to hurt Amanda's feelings, but it backfires. Lily is the one who responds to her own comments. Amanda is all logic. Like that stacked dialogue, with the cut/reverse-cut about Amanda smelling weird? Amanda says, "I thought I was getting away with it because no one said anything." And Lily responds, "You're not."
Emily: Hahahaha so good.
Mary Kay: I was the only girl in the theater when I went to see it (it was a weekday matinee) and I was laughing aloud the whole time. It's like, SO honest. And a little mean.
Emily: But that's what Lily loves about Amanda from the get-go.
Mary Kay: RIGHT!
Emily: We realize this more later when we discover more about Lily, but there are two things that attract Lily to Amanda: 1) Lily can be mean and not feel bad about it. 2) She knows that Amanda is just absorbing her emotions and reflecting them back to her. And Lily is extremely self-centered, so this is something that is a big deal for her. Because most people wouldn't give her that.
Mary Kay: Very true!
Emily: So yes, this movie takes a turn, and this is where we start to realize things about Lily. And about Amanda, really.
Mary Kay: Yeah. I think the turn happens when Amanda plays chess with herself in the yard while Lily stares off into space. Is that where you saw it, too?
Emily: Yes. I think we really need to break down this scene. Do a close reading, if you will.
Mary Kay: This is when we find out that Amanda was 1. good at sports because of her logic, and 2. the horse killing was a mercy killing. She doesn't really feel anything for the horse, but she can tell that killing it was the right thing to do because it would never run again--or maybe even walk. So she tries to euthanize him. She tells us that black-market drugs are very poor-quality, though, and he woke up during it, which is why it looked like torture when they found her. She also tried to convince her mother to have a veterinarian do it, or to do it quick, painlessly, with a gun, but "when the head of your household has a weak constitution like that...." That line also made me laugh aloud. Because she's right. Like, I have feelings, and Amanda is still right.
Emily: Something I thought was interesting is the power dynamic clearly set up in the staging of this scene.
Mary Kay: Yep.
Emily: Amanda seems engaged. She's in motion, she's in the background. It's like she's performing, trying to get Lily to engage with her. Lily is in the foreground but to the side, not really participating. Amanda is playing chess alone. Lily is sitting down and bored.
Mary Kay: Yes. And because she's playing chess, it seems like Amanda is in charge. She's making the moves. But really, it's Lily.
Emily: Exactly. She's making the moves, but Lily is pulling the strings.
Mary Kay: Puppetmaster style.
Emily: And I don't think we fully realize that dynamic until this scene. And this is also a scene when Amanda first shows her vulnerability with revealing this story about her horse.
Mary Kay: Yep. And that's when the monstrous switches places to me in a concrete way. Earlier (I think) Amanda also rescues Lily from drowning. Which shows her consistent morality. But anyway, the chess scene is when Lily finally asks Amanda to do it. And Amanda is like, no, I won't do it myself because they'll catch me, but we can get someone else to do it. And I'll help you.
Emily: Right. And we start to realize Lily is manipulative, which Amanda finds out more about as the movie goes on. So let's talk about Lily.
Mary Kay: Let's do! So she feels "everything." But not.
Emily: I think both Lily and Amanda are grappling with a very teenage problem.
Mary Kay: What's that?
Emily: They both feel like they have a clear understanding of who they are, but who they want to project is not really who they are, because they're still figuring that out. And I think that's why the shifts are so extreme.
Mary Kay: That makes a lot of sense.
Emily: So Lily wants to be this perfect "thoroughbred" rich girl who is everyone's little darling. Who does well in school. Who has this amazing internship.
Mary Kay: Yes. Which is evidenced by her lying about that internship, tutoring Amanda, applying for readmission to boarding school....
Emily: Right. This image is really important to her. Her hair is always impeccable. She always tries to appear put together.
Mary Kay: THOSE CLOTHES. Omg.
Emily: Oh yeah her shit was on point. But in reality, all the pieces of her life are falling apart.
Mary Kay: ALL OF THEM.
Emily: And the reason she hates her stepfather so much is he doesn't indulge this false image she's created for herself. Like, sure he's an asshole, but she's not killing him because he yells at her mother. She wants to kill him because he doesn't indulge her.
Mary Kay: Yep. And when he does dress her down, Amanda is like... but everything he said was true.
Mary Kay: Which, again, non-indulgent and logical.
Emily: And that's the thing. She doesn't want to know the truth. She just wants to change the truth. And she's spoiled enough to think she deserves that.
Mary Kay: Yeah. The entitlement with her is REAL. Wait--why'd she get kicked out of school again? Plagiarism? SUPER ENTITLED. And then she plays the Dead Dad Card. Which is EEEEXtra shitty.
Emily: Yes. Plagiarism. Which is like THE MOST ENTITLED OFFENSE.
Mary Kay: THE. MOST.
Emily: We are two English professors here. We can go on about this ALL DAY. DO NOT TEST US.
Mary Kay: Entitlement and plagiarism are basically synonyms. The subtext of plagiarism: Not only am I incapable of original thought, but I also believe that I deserve credit for someone else's original thought.
Emily: And also, I don't have time to come up with thoughts for your class because I have more important shit to do. But I still want an A.
Mary Kay: Yeah. Like if she had written the original paper with as much interest as she's bullshitting this apology note....
Emily: SERIOUSLY. In the end, it's always more work to plagiarize, kids. And it just pisses us off. So don't do it. That's the true lesson of this movie.
Mary Kay: It should be, but then she does get out of it. Because she gets ANOTHER Dead Dad Card.
Emily: So anyway. That's when we realize Lily is an asshole. Because she's a plagiarist. Your mileage may vary, but for us English profs, that's when we knew she was an asshole.
Mary Kay: That's when we knew. Anyway, what else about Lily?
Emily: Ummm... so basically from that point on she just goes off the manipulative bitch deep end. Because her life is more important than everyone else's You know you're entitled when you're pouting about the fact that your stepfather didn't get murdered over your spa weekend.
Mary Kay: Yeah, she's so manipulative that she ACTUALLY convinces Amanda that her life is less important, less worth living.
Mary Kay: And because Amanda's morality has to be totally unflinching and logical in order for her to be a good person--because she's "not necessarily a bad person: [she] just has to try harder than most people"--when Lily cracks the code, Amanda downs the Rohypnol.
Emily: And Lily's like "Oh no stop..." but just barely. And then still frames her for murder... so. It's like she can get out of it without any feeling of moral responsibility because she's like "I told her not to do it, but she WANTED to." And she can make that the truth she remembers.
Mary Kay: Yep. Which she does. She tells Tim at the end.
Emily: Tim played my Anton Yelchin, who is unfortunately not the focus of this discussion, but it still bears mentioning.
Mary Kay: Yes, what an impeccable performance.
Mary Kay: And Lily is SO self-centered that after she frames Amanda, she lies on the couch with her and puts Amanda's arm around her as if Amanda is comforting her.
Emily: OMG YES YOU'RE RIGHT. I forgot about that bit.
Mary Kay: That was the best part. The muted television and Lily coming back down the stairs with blood all over her crisp white sweater.
Emily: Oh, this is kind of an aside. But I love how this movie avoided showing us the really horrific moments.
Mary Kay: Bitch I was just going to say that!
Emily: Like when Lily asks her friend to send her pics of the horse, we don't see what's on the computer screen. We only see Lily's face looking at the computer.
Mary Kay: Yeah, like totally slack-jawed with a toothbrush in her mouth.
Emily: And then during the murder. We stay with Amanda sleeping on the couch while Lily goes upstairs.
Mary Kay: Which I think was scarier. Or at least more suspenseful.
Emily: Yes. We only know dude is dead because the sound of his rowing machine stops. And oh yeah the blood also I guess.
Mary Kay: Yeah, like a whole minute later. They said they did that live, too.
Emily: That's great. Man, talking about this movie reminds me why I loved it so much.
Mary Kay: I KNOW, RIGHT. But yeah, they literally changed Anya Taylor-Joy (who plays Lily) into bloody clothes while the film was rolling.
Emily: You mean she didn't just kill someone live? That wasn't real hot blood from the body of a newly slaughtered stepdad?
Mary Kay: I mean, I doubt they'd put that in writing.
Emily: Oh right. That's for the Tell-All Book that Anya Taylor-Joy will write when her fierce ass is aged Hollywood royalty. I love Anya Taylor-Joy.
Mary Kay: What a power house. I loved The Witch. And I loved HER in Split, even though I thought that movie was irresponsible.
Emily: She's made really interesting movie choices so far. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does next.
Mary Kay: Same. Okay, so can we also talk about the very end with Amanda in the criminal asylum, too?
Emily: Okay, but I have one last question, and I feel like my question and what you want to talk about might fit together.
Mary Kay: Let's go with your question first.
Emily: It has to do with feelings again. I think based on our conversation about Lily, it's pretty clear how Lily feels about Amanda. Lily sees Amanda as someone she can manipulate and someone who is a good friend to her because she reflects back whatever Lily wants. But how do we think Amanda feels about Lily? And this is where the question of love comes into play. Did she do what she did for Lily simply out of morality? Or does she care about Lily?
Mary Kay: That's a great question. What do you think? I'm still sorting it out.
Emily: I feel like she cares about Lily, because she felt accepted by her. And she hadn't felt accepted before. And even though she pretends not to care about that shit, I think it's pretty clear Lily's acceptance of her is important to her. Again, I go back to the chess scene, how Amanda is performing for Lily, trying to get her to engage.
Mary Kay: Yeah. But she doesn't FEEL. Can she FEEL accepted?
Emily: I think FEELING accepted is different than FEELING sadness or happiness. It's more factual.
Mary Kay: Hmmm okay.
Emily: Like you're either accepted or you aren't. And you know you're accepted or you aren't.
Mary Kay: But our emotions get in the way of that, too.
Emily: Oh yeah totally. Our emotions skew what we know all the time. You can say you don't feel accepted, but what you're really saying is "I don't know if I am accepted, or I am not accepted" But she KNOWS she is accepted because that's the truth Lily wants her to know. But what do you think?
Mary Kay: Okay, so I want to disagree. Just for the sake of disagreeing. Or at least showing another side.
Emily: Yes, please do.
Mary Kay: So, in the first scene, Amanda goes into the house and sees the photo of Lily over the mantle riding the horse. When she's in the residential place for the criminally insane, we see the whole picture, and we see that it USED to be a photo of both of them, but Lily's family cropped Amanda out of it. So we still have the "belongingness" that that piece of evidence could support.
BUT. In the beginning, it's what makes Amanda turn to that big mirror and fake a smile like Lily's. Lily was her tutor in emotions. She did the "technique" when Lily's dad died, and if they were such close friends, then Lily probably was the prototype for a lot of Amanda's manufactured emotions. So it seems more like a falling on the grenade for the sake of reciprocity, to me. A sort of exchange of goods.
Emily: Oooh. Very interesting.
Mary Kay: And we see her fake the smile again when she looks at the picture in her cell. OR IS IT FAKE?
Emily: WE DON'T KNOW. DOES SHE KNOW?
Mary Kay: See? Both could work! To carry out the later one, it seems like Lily sort of let Amanda feel like her life had a point, until she drew back the curtain. And then Amanda was grateful for that, but she saw through it, so she willingly did the thing that Lily was going to trick her into doing. But it really could go either way.
Emily: And I think that's what makes this movie interesting. Or one of the things that makes the move interesting.
Mary Kay: Does she finally feel at the end? Or is the logic just satisfied? And are those two things really different?
Emily: So what else do we need to say? Any last thoughts?
Mary Kay: Um... PLEASE MORE MOVIES LIKE THIS PLEASE! ALSO BRING THIS ONE BACK TO THE FUCKING THEATER DAMN IT!
Emily: Yes please.
Mary Kay: OR HURRY UP AND RELEASE IT FOR HOME VIEWING!
Emily: YES THAT! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
If Thoroughbreds is no longer out at a theater near you, the DVD/Blu-Ray release date is June 5. Ugggh so long from now.