“Temple Grandin” Review – Incredible Movie About an Incredible Person

[This is Part 1 of a 2-part series.]

The FW movie grade: A+.

 

Claire Danes plays the title role in "Temple Grandin," an entertaining and emotionally-satisfying movie.

 

Temple Grandin is the best movie I’ve seen on TV in years. The reason it’s such an excellent movie (besides the acting, writing, directing, and cinematography) is the subject matter: Temple Grandin herself. What an extraordinary life. What a unique person. What a compelling story.

Do y’all know her story?

Temple, born in 1948, didn’t speak until the age of four, when she was diagnosed with autism. At the time there was little known about this affliction. One doctor said Temple would never learn, adapt, or get better.

[Note: Temple Grandin has earned three college degrees; is a college professor, an author, an activist, and world-renown expert and lecturer on animal behavior. This means there is no excuse for the rest of us!]

Temple’s Mom (TM) asked the doctor how her daughter contracted this affliction. The doctor said there had been studies suggesting that the mother did not properly bond with the child when the child needed her—or some such nonsense. Typical: Blame the mother—for a neural disorder! The doctor recommended that Temple be institutionalized. But TM refused that advice.

Here lies the heart of the movie: a mother’s undiluted love and support for a child—because of her brain wiring—cannot return that affection. A mom who wants desperately to hug her daughter but the daughter cannot stand to be touched.

And then what can happen to a child when his/her mother never gives up on that child. Whew—that’s a killer theme.

The first line of the movie is great:

“My name is Temple Grandin and I’m not like other people.”

You can say that again!

The movie shows the difficulty of growing up with autism. It shows how equally hard it is to parent an autistic child. I think Temple’s Mom had just as hard (if not harder) time dealing with the “affliction” as she knew the problems Temple would face the rest of her life if she did not “fit in” the real world. As Temple says in the movie, I don’t understand people.”

Claire Danes plays Temple with an abandon of someone who does not filter herself (to “fit in” to society), which is what autism is like. Julia Ormond plays the long-suffering mom with grit and an aching heart. Both actresses are superb—and IMHO deserved their Emmy awards.

Temple was sent to a boarding school for high school—to help her assimilate and not be labeled “an odd ball, a weird-o.” (The soundtrack played Peter, Paul, and Mary’s song: “If I Had a Hammer” in the background.)Her relationship with a science teacher (played by brilliantly by David Strathairn, who also won an Emmy for his role) helped her gain confidence in herself and embrace her “special mind;” and also reinforce her Mom’s assessment that Temple was “different but not less.

After high school Temple spends the summer at her aunt’s livestock ranch in Arizona. (I got a kick out of her Oxford saddle shoes and Peter-Pan-collar blouses on the farm.) It’s here that Temple first becomes interested in cows and their behavior—which she discerns is similar to hers.

Temple then heads to Franklin Pierce College (with the Lovin’ Spoonful played in the background to set the timeframe). Again, I liked the loafers with ankle socks!

One of the most fascinating parts of the movie to me was Temple’s need to be “squeezed.” She achieved the squeezing action from a contraption she built based on one used at her aunt’s ranch—that immobilized cows to be inoculated (like an open-air cage with bars that squeeze inward. (BTW, the cows like it. So does Temple.)

For Temple, this squeeze machine was the physical equivalent of a human hug. Just like a hug is necessary for “regular” kids (for comfort, reassurance, to feel loved, etc.), the squeeze machine was necessary for Temple’s well being. She said it “calmed her down;” “made her gentle.” It made her feel like something inside her became connected.

 

Temple runs into trouble with the school administration over keeping the squeeze machine in her dorm room. The school officials think Temple is receiving sexual stimulation from it so they have it remove. Eventually with her Aunt’s help, Temple turns her squeeze machine into a science experiment.

She places other classmates in the machine and records their reactions. She asks them if they feel:

A. Claustrophobic.

B. Constricted.

C. No difference.

D. Comfortable.

E. Relaxed.

It’s interesting how the students respond. I wouldn’t even have to enter the squeeze machine. Just looking at it make me A: CLAUSTROPHOBIC!

Temple’s science project was well received. She graduated from college and gave the graduation speech, my favorite scene in the movie. That will be discussed in Part 2 of my review. So check back tomorrow. 

And if you have Netflix, get this movie into you queue pronto. It’s that good!

 

Temple Grandin (the real person) at this year's Emmy Awards, after the movie about her won for best made-for-television movie.

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