HBO’s must-see movie: Temple Grandin

HBO's Temple Grandin
Clare Danes as Temple Grandin in HBO’s bio movie

Innovator.  Author.  Activist.  Autistic.  Through mentoring and sheer will, a young autistic woman succeeds against the odds.  That’s Temple Grandin.

I happen to catch the tail end of this HBO movie while channel surfing (no surprise there) and was surprised on several fronts.  I was surprised at the cast:  Clare Danes in the title role;  Julia Ormond as her mother; Catherine O’Hara as her aunt; and David Strathairn as one of her high school teachers and pivotal person in her life.  But HBO gets great people for their movies.  I was surprised that I had never heard of the movie before.  Where’s all the ads?  And I was surprised that I hadn’t heard about her unique inventions because of personal but long-ago connections to the field.  I’ve watched the movie 3 times in a 24 hour period.

This truly inspiring movie tells the story of Temple Grandin, Ph.D. now a professor at the University of Colorado but diagnosed with autism at the age of 4 at which time institutionalization was the prescribed course of action.  Portrayed in Temple’s very matter-of-fact style, we saw the challenges she faced growing up with autism, and how she and key people around her persevered to overcame those social, emotional, and educational stigmas and hurdles.  Portraying the world from Temple’s perspective in a truly clever way is doubly unique because until Temple spoke up, no one understood before then what it was like to BE autistic simply because most autistic children and adults are rarely able to speak, much less articulate their thoughts and feelings in a way that everyday people can understand.

Clare Danes was so outstanding in this role.  She was in her own world, she struggled with emotional pain and frustration, she was wild, she was fearful, she was determined, she was brave.  Julia Ormond showed the intelligence to stand-up against the male-dominated, arrogant medical world that blames the mother for their children’s plight.  Her never-ending guilt, her frustration, her desire to protect her daughter, and her determination to have Temple become an independent, productive and accepted member of society clearly showed through.

But it was Temple’s ability to learn quickly, connect the dots (albeit differently) and apply observations to different scenarios is what made her stand out.  Seeing the calming effect a holding cage had on a cow while receiving inoculations on her aunt’s farm is one thing but believing that a holding cage would work for her takes her cognitive abilities to a whole new level.

I loved the ending when she proclaims that spinning and rolling are good for autistics and that it eventually will calm their nervous systems – contrary to the M.D.’s protestations while standing at the podium.  Temple goes on to explain why it calms them and that she knows this to be true by simply saying, “I’m autistic.”

Well done, Mick Jackson.  Good job, Bill Nelson.

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