Horse Girl is a 2020 Psychological Thriller directed by Jeff Baena. The plot is centered on a socially awkward woman who is struggling to differentiate her dreams from reality. The Horse Girl cast features Alison Brie in the leading role, who is also a co-writer of the film. Molly Shannon and Debby Ryan are seen in supporting roles. The film blends themes from movies like Take Shelter and Predestination. Without further ado, here’s the detailed plot analysis and the ending of the film Horse Girl explained. You can watch the film – here.
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Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:
Horse Girl: What’s going on? What is it about?
Horse Girl is the story about a girl going through a mental illness, alien abduction, AND time travel. Yes, I know the general theories are mostly in favour of either mental illness or science fiction. But director, Jeff Baena, has mentioned that he used both themes in the film. Jeff says he has known people close to him who had suffered from schizophrenia, and so has actor, Alison Brie, whose own grandmother had schizophrenia. The director has also said that he has witnessed UFOs in real life, although not necessarily alien, the way the objects moved, it didn’t feel like drones to him either.
Now we can walk through the plot tieing up the events and talk about the non-linear order of Sarah’s life.
You can check out this Q&A and the below video where Alison and Jeff confirm that this film is a bit of everything – mental illness, aliens, and time travel.
Horse Girl Explained By The Director
As I mentioned above, the director says that Horse Girl is both about mental disease and science fiction (aliens and timeloops). I’m going to summarize this Q&A by the director and Alison Brie and the video above to explain the plot of Horse Girl.
What happened to Sarah’s Grandmother in Horse Girl?
Sarah’s grandmother once claimed she was from the future. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and released prematurely and ended up dying as a homeless woman. I hate to break this to you at this point, but Sarah is that person who goes back in time to become the lady who claimed to be from the future. Sarah is her own grandmother. We’ll talk about this again in the Horse Girl Ending Explained section at the end.
What happened to Sarah’s Mother in Horse Girl?
Sarah’s mother was not schizophrenic. She was suffering from depression. It’s not mentioned why she struggled, but she kills herself by overdosing on sleeping pills. Sarah finds her dead in the shower. This is the reason the sound of flowing water causes Sarah to zone out.
Who is Gary?
We are not told who Sarah’s father is, but Gary is Sarah’s stepfather. He’s not wronged Sarah physically or anything. It’s just that he’s not been around for her and hopes to make up for it.
Horse Girl: What is happening to Sarah?
Sarah is suffering from mental health issues. She has sleepwalking problems, nosebleeds, and zones out every now and then. An example of her sleepwalking is when Sarah’s roommate’s boyfriend finds her standing in the hall in the middle of the night and wakes up when he calls out to her. An example of Sarah’s zoning out is when she hears the sound of water from the water tanks and abandons her car and walks home.
What is additionally happening is that Sarah is going through alien abduction and time jumps. This truly makes it most complicated for Sarah because she’s not able to say which is real and which is not. Even as audiences, we brush aside her alien theory and attribute it to her mental health. But the filmmakers, Jeff and Alison, have stated that they wanted to experiment with both themes in this film.
Who is Joan? Who does Joan see with the horse?
Joan is a sweet lady who works in the store with Sarah. She empathizes with Sarah and her social awkwardness. Joan also plays a very vital role in explaining the film Horse Girl. Her character is proof of what’s actually happening in the movie. While most of the movie is from the point of view of Sarah, one critical scene is from Joan’s point of view. This is the opening scene where Joan sees a lady pass by with a horse when she’s talking to Sarah in the store. It is revealed in the end that the lady she happens to see is another Sarah. This scene, as stressed by the director, is proof that there are elements of science fiction in this film. We’ll get back to this in the explanation of the ending of Horse Girl below.
What is DNANU?
DNANU is a company that asks for saliva samples of a person to identify their ancestry. Joan uses this service to learn that she’s got both European and African descent. On Sarah’s birthday, Joan gifts her a DNANU test kit.
Who is Heather? What happened to Heather?
Heather is a close friend of Sarah’s, and they used to learn horse riding together. One day, Heather happens to be distracted while riding her horse and falls off and hits her head. As a result, Heather suffers from frequent seizures and memory losses. Sarah is very fond of Heather and visits as often as possible.
Why is Sarah obsessed with the horse, Willow?
She’s very fond of her training horse, Willow. She doesn’t train anymore after the accident that caused Heather so much pain. To relive the memories of the days, Sarah visits the ranch frequently and tries to strenuously mentor a girl who is currently learning to ride. Sarah is genuine in her concern for this girl but comes across as a creepy person.
How is the show Purgatory connected to Horse Girl?
Sarah’s daily wind-down show is called Purgatory, which seems to be a current-day version of The X-Files. She’s very fond of the lead character in the show, Darren. This show also ends up putting a lot of fantastical ideas in Sarah’s mind, which we’ll talk about later.
Horse Girl: Who is Darren? Is he real?
Darren is Sarah’s roommates’ boyfriend’s roommate. First off, he’s not Sarah’s imagination, he actually exists and is a really nice guy who likes Sarah a lot. Coincidentally, he has the same name as the lead in the show Purgatory.
What are the dreams about? Is Sarah going through Alien Abduction?
Let’s put this subject to rest straight away. Sarah has both surreal dreams and is going through alien abduction. The scratch marks on her living room walls and car roof seem to be created by the aliens when they come to get her. These are finger-like scratches and are unlikely to be created by Sarah’s hands or scissors. The reason I’m saying this is again because both director Jeff Baena, and actor, Alison Brie, have mentioned that it is “a bit of both” that Sarah is going through.
Who is the plumbing company guy?
The plumbing guy is one of two people Sarah happens to see during her abductions. She meets him to check if he’s been having similar dreams as her. He doesn’t seem to recognize Sarah.
Horse Girl: What happened in that clock scene at 11:02PM and 11:04PM?
One night, Sarah goes to sleep at 11:02PM. After that, she experiences her abduction. She is returned at a payphone, and notice that her top is buttoned on backward. After walking back home and getting back to her bed, Sarah sees that the time is 11:04PM. Only 2 minutes have passed. Even if she had only sleepwalked to the payphone, it couldn’t have been within 2 minutes. This is one of the earlier time jumps of Sarah that we are shown.
The Date: How everything spirals from there
Sarah and Darren go on a date which is lovely for the most part of it. By now, Sarah’s mind has reached a great deal of instability because of everything she’s been going through. She asks Darren if he believes in clones, which he finds to be interesting. He soon realizes that Sarah is really serious and thinks that she is her mother’s clone – she’s getting this idea from the show Purgatory. She first takes Darren to show him the plumbing dude, then goes all-out crazy on him when he refuses to dig the remains of her mother from the graveyard. Sarah has a meltdown and forces Darren to leave.
How does Sarah get to the store naked in Horse Girl?
Sarah returns from her date and starts lighting incenses and chanting crazy stuff about satellites. She enters the bathroom and has a shower. No, she does not teleport to the store, she just zones out because of the running water and drives up to the store naked. We know this because we are shown her car driving up to the parking lot of the store. Sarah snaps out of it, but it’s too late. She’s standing naked in front of everyone in the store – the most dreaded nightmare comes true for her. Ashamed and scared, Sarah calls for Joan, who rushes to help her. Later in the store, Sarah also begins to hear the immediate future as she picks up the phone. Joan admits Sarah to the psychiatric hospital.
Does Sarah really leave the Hospital? Are the aliens real in Horse Girl?
At night, at the hospital, we are shown that the attending nurse suddenly has a change in wardrobe and leaves Sarah’s door ajar. Now, this part is not real. The reason I say this is because firstly, it’s not that easy to just march out of a psychiatric hospital. And secondly, we see Sarah, from her room, look at herself leave the hospital.
Sarah imagines going home to see the girl from her abductions in place of her roommate. Sarah exits her home from her house and finds the store is now adjacent to her window. She enters and steals all the peach fabric to make herself a protective suit and adorns the horse, Willow, in one too. She imagines meeting Darren, who transforms into Darren from the show Purgatory. Finally, we get a glimpse into her memory of the aliens and their long fingers, showing us that the scratch marks in the house and car were most likely caused by them. This entire dream sequence ends with Sarah meeting her friend Heather in her bed.
Who is the girl in the adjacent Bed of Sarah?
Sarah wakes up to notice she has sleepwalked on to the adjacent bed in her room at the hospital. The girl from the abductions is now her neighbor and claims that she went to sleep in 1996 and woke up in 2020. Now, I’d reckon that this scene may only be in the mind of Sarah. Had the girl woken up 24 years into the future, she would have first tried to locate her parents or friends who might be able to corroborate her going missing back in 1996 and reappearing without aging. Importantly, this is a moment when Sarah begins to realize that she is going through time-jumps.
Horse Girl: Sarah’s Timeloop Explained
Sarah is going through time jumps for sure. We see a scene where Joan looks at a Sarah walking the horse while another Sarah is standing beside her. The director, Jeff, confirmed that it is “Sarah” that Joan is looking at with the horse and not someone else.
Why is Sarah not able to remember her time in the hospital correctly?
Okay, this part is going to be a little hard to explain. I’ll try my best. There are two times that Sarah is admitted to the hospital. The second time is after she appears naked in the store. And, the first time is for a reason not disclosed in the film. Now, the critical bit is that from Sarah’s perspective, both her visits to the hospital are muddled as one single event, but for the hospital, it is two different ones. Confusing?
I’m going to use some hypothetical dates to explain the order of events. Let’s assume that on 15th June Sarah arrives naked at the store. After this, Joan admits her to the hospital. The social worker, Ethan, mentions that Sarah was already there once before. Sarah cannot recollect this, because, for her, that event has not yet happened. Sarah tells Ethan about her clone theory.
At the hospital, Sarah goes through a whole set of hallucinations, she finally ends up traveling back in time to 15th May (again a date I have picked randomly to explain). We don’t know the events of 15th May, but she eventually lands up in the hospital. After spending two days there zoned out, on 17th May, she talks to Ethan. When Sarah meets Ethan, he can’t find any conversations about her clone theory in his notes. This is because it is 17th May, the talk about her being a clone was on 15th June. While for Sarah, 15th June has already happened (because she traveled through time), it’s still a month away for Ethan.
In summary, Ethan experiences time linearly like any other person. So he first meets Sarah on 15th May through 17th May. After that, Ethan meets Sarah again on 15th June when she tells him that she’s a clone. For Sarah, it’s just the reverse. She first met Ethan on 15th June, where she can’t recollect any previous meeting with him. After that, she has her final conversation with him on 17th May when she tells him she’s not a clone.
Horse Girl Ending Explained: What really happened?
The ending of Horse Girl has Sarah realizing that she is traveling through time. The real reason she looks so similar to her grandmother is that she is her own grandmother. She tells Ethan that she knows what she has to do – go and become her grandmother! How on earth, you ask? After being released from the hospital, Sarah understands what is about to happen. She heads home, changes into her grandmother’s dress, and steals Willow. Remember, this Sarah walking the horse has traveled back through time. This is the reason why Joan happens to see one Sarah on the street while talking to the other Sarah in the store.
Horse Girl: Sarah Is Her Own Grandmother!!
After releasing Willow into the forest, the ending scene of Horse Girl shows Sarah being beamed up by a spaceship. She is sent back in time by many decades. Sarah additionally sees the spacecraft in the pattern of the Mark Of Hades from the show Purgatory. In the past, she would take on the name of Helen and live a life. She also gets photographed in the orange dress, and this photo is passed down over the years. Helen would get married and have a daughter. Years later, that daughter would have her own daughter, who would be Sarah. And therefore Sarah is her own grandmother. This explains why Sarah’s grandmother thought she was from the future. Well, she was.
How can this be possible? Well, it’s not unless it’s fictional science that involves time travel. There is only one time-loop in this film, so before you ask how did it happen the first time around, let me say this. There is always one set of events – a mysterious lady from the future has a daughter, that daughter has her own daughter. This granddaughter travels back in time and becomes the mysterious lady from the future. Sarah is the result of the Bootstrap Paradox created by a Predestination Timeloop – she causes herself to come into existence.
DNANU – Why are there no results for Sarah?
While Sarah’s maternal side might have no ancestry, her paternal side will (as someone rightly pointed out in the comments). Considering these tests are statistical in nature, her DNA would have some result (however inaccurate). She didn’t get her results probably because her post never reached the company.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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