The Lasting Effects of "Buck"

Fiction writer Peggy Rambach didn't leave "Buck" at the theater this summer. She took the man and the documentary portrait of his life and ways into hers.


Photo by Brainedge.
Photo by Brainedge.

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I went to see Buck for the usual reasons I go to see movies: because a friend urged me to, because I like to be informed, culturally enriched, entertained of course, and maybe if the film is good enough, inspired. I do not go to a movie for hope and solace, spiritual guidance and a renewed perspective on how to live a life that is good. And yet, this is what I got by seeing, Buck. Or I should say Buck Brannaman, a man I would have never been so fortunate to meet had it not been for the amazing medium of film.

In it, you witness a man who was physically and psychologically brutalized in his first eight years of life, and yet, gains the trust and thus the acquiescence of animals far larger and more powerful than he, simply by being patient and by being kind. We see Buck standing still and silent, arms loose by his sides, his gaze directed downward and a few feet forward of frightened and aggressive horses that suddenly, of their own volition, become docile, and enter the narrow and unnatural confines of a trailer or allow a human onto their backs; and the audience gasps, as if we’ve witnessed a miracle that is on the order of the divine.

What we have seen is divine, but it is not a miracle. Buck Brannaman, like any good teacher, only helps us to discover what we already know. We may view what he does with amazement, but also with the recognition that, like Buck Brannaman, we do not have to shave our heads, or wear saffron robes to embrace the power of kindness and live by what we carry around within our flawed and mortal selves every single day: our capacity for resilience, empathy, humility, patience, love, and courage, too, because only cowardice and fear breeds the cruelty and violence we use to subdue other living things, including our own planet. If Buck Brannaman can embody these, our greatest human qualities, given what he suffered at the hands of a human who embodied our worst, so can we all.

At the film’s end I did, indeed, leave the theater inspired. In the last few weeks I've offered more patience to my unpredictable dog and have started listening to happier music, so as not to indulge my feelings of loss and sadness with the albums that I know will stir them up. What this film brought to my life has changed my way of living it. And yet, inspiration inevitably fades and everything good takes discipline and faith, so should I find that they should falter, I will place this film, like a book, on my shelf, and watch it when I need to, should I need to, again and again.