Kubrick’s The Killing: Why Do They Shoot the Horse?
Why does the plot of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (based on the novel Clean Break by Lionel White) hinge on the shooting of a horse? It’s presumably because they expect a horse that falls during a race to create a big commotion and distract everyone while they rob the track. Whoever came up with this plot either had no idea what goes on at the racetrack, or thought that most people reading the book or watching the movie would be clueless.
The truth is that horses break down during races all the time and that something akin to the showbiz ethos, “the show must go on,” operates. Don’t believe me? Here’s what a columnist in Today’s Racing Digest had to say about Vic Stauffer, the race caller at Hollywood Park, when he failed to adhere to this ethos:
He’s taken us to the precipice often in the past, but this time Vic Stauffer went right over the edge. His call for Thursday’s Hollywood Prevue Stakes was the last straw, not to mention a flagrant violation of the neutrality code and professional ethics that announcers from coast to coast have lived up to for nearly a century. (Source.)
What was Stauffer’s sin? When a horse broke down during the race, he had the gall to say, “Galex has pulled up. It doesn’t look good for Galex. Darn it.”
Like I said, horses break down practically every day during a thoroughbred race somewhere in North America, and practically nobody bats an eye. It makes no difference whether the horse is the favorite, as is the case in the film, or a longshot. This is why the plot of The Killing appears to be hatched by people who never set foot on a racetrack in their life. If they had, they would know that most of the people at the track were inured to the tragic consequences of the Sport of Kings long ago. These people accept break downs as part of the game. Thanks to this attitude, the killing in The Killing was doomed the moment someone came up with the idea that shooting a horse at a racetrack would create a stir. Would there be any reaction at all? Sure. Bettors with losing tickets on the fallen horse would be angry as hell, perhaps even shouting “boo!,” as they tore up their tickets and marched towards the exit.