This article contains spoilers.
Duos are one of those things we see all the time, it seems. Maybe you’ve got a good cop, bad cop situation. Maybe you run into a pair of villains, one of whom is quite obviously the ringleader and genius mastermind even if their official title isn’t. Then you have best friends like Betty and Veronica, who bring out the best (or sometimes worst, if they’re fighting over Archie!) in each other even though they’re so different.
When I first heard about the movie Thoroughbreds, the film debut of playwright Cory Finley, I mostly pegged it as a tale of two privileged girls – “thoroughbreds” – who came from wealthy backgrounds and contrasted each other in one main detail: emotion. Lily, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, feels everything, the trailer says. Amanda, played by Olivia Cooke, feels nothing.
I also heard they were going to try to kill Lily’s stepfather and that it was a black comedy. It all sounded like a great recipe for a funny and wicked thriller-ish film, and a way to highlight (or criticize) the pressures that upper-class people go through, not that I know anything about that.
But what I hadn’t expected was just how powerful Lily and Amanda’s dynamic would be once I saw the movie.
Lily and Amanda are friends, though I wouldn’t exactly call them best friends. They were best friends a long time ago, until Lily’s father died and they drifted apart. Nevertheless, they present an interesting “best friend” dynamic: Lily and Amanda need each other to accomplish their dirty deed.
In most of the movies I’ve seen, anyway, best friends are unstoppable. Like Lily and Amanda, best friends often contrast each other in some significant way, and stick together to overcome any obstacle. Usually it’s a bully/villain of some kind, or maybe one of the pair are the bully and learns a lesson to do better, often thanks to the help of a positive best friend.
But the Lily/Amanda duo takes that dynamic and changes it up big time.
Amanda’s destructive influence
Amanda shows almost no emotion throughout the entire film – with the exception of when she’s showing Lily a technique to cry on demand. She’s practiced it for years, she said, and used that when she cried together with Lily after her dad’s funeral.
Because of Amanda’s lack of emotion, she say things that would seem very much at odds with how someone would typically react. Kill your stepfather, she suggests nonchalantly when she sees that Lily hates him. But I can’t do it even though I’d be free of guilt, because I have an impending trial for animal cruelty.
In fact, these “logical” suggestions are what plant the ideas in Lily’s head in the first place. She also helps Lily become much more truthful about her emotion as she tries to spare Amanda’s feelings in the first scenes of the movie, when we find out that Amanda’s mother had paid Lily to hang out with her.
That’s usually a good thing, until Lily takes that advice and becomes obsessed – though not outwardly – with offing her stepfather. We even see that this advice of “being truthful” didn’t really result in any sort of revelation or development for Lily other than her homicidal obsession, as we see Lily lie quite skillfully at the end of the movie.
Lily’s destructive influence
Even if Amanda planted the idea in Lily’s head in the first place, it’s Lily who brings it to its conclusion. In particular, she exploits Amanda’s lack of emotion, suggesting that Amanda kill her stepfather because Amanda would feel no guilt. Amanda declines and they come up with an alternative. Yet Lily keeps pressing until the film’s conclusion, when Amanda doesn’t think life is worth living anyway.
More similar than first glance
Despite their lack or abundance of emotion, the two leads have more in common than we think, which contrasts the foils usually found in best friend duos.
They’re both cold-blooded in different ways – Amanda because she doesn’t feel emotion, Lily because she acts on her strongest ones seemingly without remorse. And even though you’re told Lily has a lot of emotion, she doesn’t really express it. Sure, she’ll look worried or guilty and cry, but for the most part she’s look just as expressionless as Amanda.
Sticking together, or not
And last but not least, best friend duos usually stick together, which Lily and Amanda certainly don’t do. Rather, Lily seeks out Amanda for her own convenience, and together they’re unstoppable at this one very specific thing. Other than that, they go their own ways.
Thoroughbreds is playing in some theaters now.
Image credits: June Pictures, B Story, Big Indie Pictures