Friday, October 21

Different, But Not Less -- A Movie Review of Temple Grandin

It's unfortunate how a number of really good films do not get promoted much or even shown in local cinemas. Instead, they usually end up on cable television movie channels months or years later. Granted that Temple Grandin is an HBO Film and was made for TV, I have never heard of it until I was assigned to cover a special screening at the Quality Life Discoveries Center in Quezon City the other day. I regret not being to catch it, or know of its existence, when it was first released last year.

Temple Grandin movie poster 
Temple Grandin is the true-to-life story of an indomitable lady who, head-on, faced her seeming limitations and the many challenges of having autism back in the days when people with special needs were considered useless and should just be confined in institutions.

Not speaking until age four, Temple (Claire Danes) grew up being laughed at and bullied by her classmates and, eventually, her co-workers. Despite many heartbreaking incidences, her mother (Julia Ormond) insisted on sending Temple to regular schools so she could eventually learn to be independent. Temple, who most of the time can't help behaving in certain ways, often found herself frustrated and losing control when certain things trigger her panic button.

Claire Danes and Julia Ormond
She discovered a way to control this when she spent one summer in her Aunt Ann's (Catherine O'Hara) farm. Inspired by a piece of farming equipment that calms down cattle, Temple created a "hug box" where she can also cocoon herself and feel safe whenever she feels she's losing control. Temple, like many individuals with autism, has problems with oversensitivity to touch and sound thus her rejection of physical contact, even from her mom. Today, this squeeze machine is widely recognized as a way to relieve stress and reduce anxiety and nervousness in people with autistic, and even ADHD, disorders.

Aside from her family, Temple found another champion in her high school teacher Dr. Carlock (David Strathairn) who inspired, supported, and fought for her so that the other teachers would realize Temple's special abilities. Her blind college roommate also helped Temple become more sociable.

Temple was very fond of animals and developed a special interest in livestock during her farm vacation. Her concern for cattle and her ability to visualize things led her to design a humane handling structure where the animals could calmly pass through before they are slaughtered. I've read that she won an award from PETA for that.

Temple at work
Claire Danes was amazing in this movie! Her portrayal of an autistic girl was uncanny because she really appeared to be afflicted with the condition. She could be funny and smart-alecky one moment then subdued and thoughtful the next in between bouts of raging temper. She will make you feel happy, sympathetic, frightened, and touched, among other emotions.

Julia Ormond, who played Mrs. Grandin, should be highly commended for giving audiences a realistic peek into the doubts, loneliness, and joys of parenting a child with special needs; how heartrending it is to practice tough love; and why one must sometimes make painful decisions regarding the welfare of that young person for his/her own good.

Parents who have children with special needs, like I do, would find this film very, very relatable. No matter what kind of disability your child has, you'll be able to identify with how Mrs. Grandin's mind, and heart, worked.

Temple and her Aunt Ann
I love Catherine O'Hara in her role here as Temple's aunt as well as David Straithairn in his role as the beloved mentor. Their exemplary acting skills contributed much to the story's flow. Too, the flashes of absurd images, as imagined by Temple, during certain parts of the movie, made it all the more entertaining. Keep an eye out for the NASA and animal husbandry images and you'll see what I mean.

Through sheer grit and ingenuity, Temple graduated from college and later earned Master's and Doctoral Degrees. She has become one of the top scientists in the humane livestock handling industry and is presently a professor at Colorado State University.

the real Temple Grandin with Claire Danes
Like the movies Door to Door starring William Macy and My Left Foot starring Daniel Day-Lewis (two great stories about cerebral palsy), I also highly recommend this film to be watched by every member of the family whether you have a loved one with special needs or not. Through this movie, I pray that more people, especially young children, would realize and always remember that words, actions, and attitude affect a disabled person's life more than that person's disability.

True, Temple Grandin and other people with disabilities may act, look, and sound different but those do not, and will never, make them any less than we, "neurotypical" people, are.

(Note: this article was originally published in BusinessWorld Online's on August 26, 2011) 
© Ruth Manimtim-Floresca

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