|INTERACTIVE (Rate the Review)||
Subscribe to our update feeds:
|Cinema Signal: A highly inspirational story with an exceptional performance.|
Thinking in Pictures
My Life with Autism
by Temple Grandin Ph.D.
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
This exemplary biopic about an autistic woman who accomplished great things stands as a template for the genre. The plethora of film biographies fail miserably on the count that they almost always stick to the mere headlines of the life they examine, calculating that too much detail will stick the movie into the arthouse bin. Films that underestimate the audience deserve all the failure they get.
A simple search on Google tells us that Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills. From my own exposure to more than one autistic child I can add that there are probably no two autistics whose symptoms are exactly alike and that it seems to be a reordering of brain wiring. Autistics are often referred to as Savants because of one or several areas of genius. It's as though the brain tissue missing from one part of the brain has been given to another.
Temple Grandin (Claire Danes) is interesting to us (and remarkable for) her insight into the causes of behavior in animals (especially cows, as related here) and for high-level, problem-solving design and engineering capability. She also differs, according to the interpretation of her in this film, from many an autistic in the degree of her self-awareness. She knows, and laments her inability to feel and express emotions with loved ones--especially her devoted, sensible mother. The emotion that she does express is the feeling of victory in having her ideas properly recognized and accepted. In such moments she celebrates as much as any pitcher does after throwing a no-hit game.
Having been born in 1947 and diagnosed as autistic in 1950, it was a time when studies of the disorder (and later named Asperger's Syndrome) were producing more bafflement than understanding. It is no wonder that the doctor to whom her mother Eustacia (Julia Ormond) takes her to for a consultation conveys the terribly misinformed prognosis that she should be institutionalized. But the Grandins aren't having that.
Though the problem stems in large part from Temple's social difficulties at school, both are convinced that Temple is smart enough for any school despite being seen by her peers as beyond nerdy. Temple's Aunt Ann (Catherine O'Hara), on whose ranch Temple stays for a summer, is in full support and agreement after watching Temple amaze everyone with her ability to build a semi-automatic, self-closing gate and picking up from a cattle enclosure her own gentling "hug machine." All agree that Temple needs to be in an environment that challenges a "high-functioning autistic" with such original ideas.
The film follows her into her post-graduate years of research at a corporate cattle facility in which herds of cows are slaughtered for market. If she thought the taunts and ridicule she suffered in high school and college were anything, wait till she goes up against the prevailing attitudes of the hard-nose culture of macho cattlemen. But she does, indicating that her social skills improved with age, even though never to full normality.
The film goes on to trace the steps she had to take for her research in the field of animal husbandry, which led to her conceptions for the humane treatment of cows in the dipping process and the journey to slaughter. The film details the visions and designs that then led her to being recognized today as one of the top scientists in the humane livestock handling industry.
The movie is so well made by director Mick Jackson ("The Memory Keeper's Daughter," TV) and his television writers Christopher Monger ("The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain") and Merritt Johnson's ("In Treatment" and upcoming "Lovelace") adaptation from Temple Grandin's autobiographies ("My Live With Autism"), we live through the highlights of her path in life with fondness and close attachment. It's a lovely journey, which isn't over yet, and Claire Danes gives us the fabric of a remarkable person's unique mentality and achievements.
With Danes' manifestation of this unique person, she enters the realm of
actors who precede her in taking on solo interpretations of extreme
characters like their life (and careers) depended on it... like Charlize
Theron who was so intent on making the 2003 biographical thriller "Monster"
about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a former prostitute who was executed in
2002 for killing seven men, that she (Theron) had to produce the film in
order to do it. It was some calculation, giving her a vehicle to prove her
acting chops with a character of such depraved and singular disposition, and
the Oscar she put so much effort into to earn.
This is Claire Danes' graund solo interpretation. She takes the character and assumes her identity. The integrity of her performance and clear devotion to her subject is second to none and evident in every frame. Do I smell an Emmy? Well, award or not, this will go down as at least one of the more remarkable interpretive performances of her career. It also maintains the level of quality for HBO original movies with a fine burst of daring and discovery.
Full disclosure? My reaction to her ultimate triumph brought tears to my eyes. Charlize never did that to me.
As with any well made film biography about a still living person, it leaves us with a wish to know the destiny of the characters after the film story ends. Today, Temple Grandin is a Doctor of Animal Science and professor at Colorado State University, a bestselling author, a speaker, and consultant to the livestock industry in animal behavior. That's her, on the left.
~~ Jules Brenner