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Movie Review: Temple Grandin

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Temple Grandin weighs in on a hot topic: how to raise the successful autistic child. We meet Temple and her mother in the psychiatrist’s office. Her mother is well-educated and her home middle class. They struggle in the family-oriented 1950s—a time when autism was known as infantile schizophrenia; the doctor recommends permanent institution. Temple’s determined mother (Julia Ormond) recoils at this suggestion. She resists and Temple stays home, nonetheless Temple will live a life apart from family and friends.

Screenwriter Christopher Monger recounts Temple’s tale with care. She loves cows and will not be kept away from them. Her photographic memory opens the door to a lifetime of research because Temple teaches herself to draft after watching an architect draw up plans just once. She has the tools now to create blueprints for what will become her signature contribution to animal husbandry.

British-born Mick Jackson won best director for the biopic, Temple Grandin, an HBO film that garnered five Emmy nominations and won five, including Outstanding Movie Made for Television. Claire Danes (she should have played Amelia Earhart) won an Emmy for her portrayal of Temple.

Danes’ effective performance required a sojourn on the island of autism where its victim isolates the world with a laser-like focus that becomes second nature. Researchers have postulated that the emotional tunnel vision exhibited by Miss Grandin was the engine that drove her near-genius abilities. While there is no perfect consensus on its actual mechanism, the real polemic wave these days is the genesis of autism. Is it something in the genes or in the vaccines? We will leave that to the experts to hash. We do know that most autistic sufferers are deprived of life as we know it filled with hugs, emotions, and close relationships. Temple survives this terrifying trade-off. And in spite of shortcomings she seeks to understand the world she inhabits and tries to leave it a better place. One thing’s for sure—Temple’s contribution to science is something to crow about.

I am probably not alone in saying that II had no idea what this woman had accomplished so I got the DVD and received a pleasant surprise. I discovered we had something in common, because I have spent time in a slaughterhouse, while being a total vegetarian. It was a bit unsettling at first to watch whole hogs slaughtered just inches from where you stand on a slippery perch, but I did it for the sake of science, reproductive physiology to be exact. My job: to bring back fresh mountain oysters from Kentucky (testicles) for the research lab. That can make you nervous. This film also takes the audience behind the scenes of the slaughterhouse. Temple enlists for a challenge to change and gate crash the original all-male turf—the beef industry, where women were not welcome.

This biographical study peels aways some of the mystery surrounding autism and the savant hidden in all of us. If you have not seen it yet, then you are missing a time-worthy little saga.

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