The bad guy in Man VS Horse is eccentric billionaire Alphonse Bronson. Alphonse is cartoonishly evil.
We see Alphonse twirl his mustache at the end of the first ten miles, when he gives Jonas false hope before choosing the harder trail. Then we see Alphonse’s childhood, when his father teaches questionable lessons about winning and losing and business. After another ten miles, we see Alphonse make bets on disabled kids running in a charity race. In this chapter we see the almost hilarious extent of his wickedness: he shows his father a horrible competition where the losing horses are processed into glue.
I’m not sure how much of a horse actually goes into glue, but it doesn’t matter. The feasibility of a horse-to-glue pipeline isn’t important. What’s important is that the image of turning horses into glue is potent. Horses are romantic animals. If you’ve ever seen a horse in person you know they’re sorta smelly and not that bright, but in stories, horses are beautiful majestic creatures. Ponies and unicorns are staple cutesy icons. Processing them into glue is exactly the laughably heinous act I’d expect from the Snidely Whiplash type.
And that’s good. Storytelling is the place for such abstract symbology. In real life, bad guys are usually more subtly devious. Alphonse will be more up-front in his disregard for the value of nature and living things.
I want to compare how Alphonse treats horses to how he treats humans. He’s willing to gamble on racehorses, and even turn the losers into glue. Given the chance, he gambles on disabled children and has no sympathy for the defeated. Humans and horses are both living beings, but it’s socially acceptable to make horses perform labor without pay. Humans expect a certain standard of living, and aren’t satisfied with just a barn to sleep in and alfalfa to eat. Yet, the way Alphonse treats horses is unnecessarily cruel, and he’s not much more kind to humans—his morality will decay over time. The way Alphonse gradually treats humans more and more like he treats horses highlights the inhumanity of treating any animal poorly.
I’ve heard you can get an impression of someone’s character by seeing how they treat the wait-staff at a restaurant. Someone who’s nice to you but rude to whoever takes their drink-order isn’t a nice person. Similarly, Alphonse’s treatment of horses is emblematic of his fundamentally twisted worldview. Although that worldview manifests more clearly when he processes horses into glue, it affects his every action, and he’ll get worse at hiding it.
Let’s see how bad this gets.