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  • Temple Grandin | Review

    By | February 6, 2010

    Director: Mick Jackson

    Writer(s): Christopher Monger, Merritt Johnson (teleplay), Temple Grandin, Margaret Scarciano (book “Emergence”) Temple Grandin (book “Thinking in Pictures”)

    Starring: Claire Danes, David Strathairn, Catherine O’Hara, Julia Ormond

    We are introduced to Temple Grandin (Clare Danes) as abruptly and uncomfortably as Temple would introduce herself – with Danes’ face in close-up revealing her social awkwardness and uncontrollable excitement as she says “Hello, I’m Temple Grandin!” We are quickly transported back to a seminal period in Temple’s childhood, the summer she spent on her Aunt Ann’s (Catherine O’Hara) cattle ranch between high school and college. This was Temple’s first immersion into the livestock industry and it was also when she truly began to gain control of her autism, thanks in part to an invention of hers called the “hug machine.”

    Told partly in flashbacks, we also spend a good quantity of time with Temple in the Hampshire Country School – boarding school for gifted children. This is where Temple meets Professor Carlock (David Strathairn), the ex-NASA science teacher at the boarding school who is the first to recognize Temple’s abilities and mentor her. Carlock is able to show to Temple how she is different from others (she thinks purely in pictures) and how she can use those differences to her advantage.

    Thanks to the confidence engrained in Temple by Carlock and her experiences on her Aunt Ann’s ranch, Temple follows through with going to Franklin Pierce College where she graduates with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is quickly engulfed into the world of academia (earning a master’s degree in animal science from Arizona State University and a Ph.D. in animal science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and livestock. Temple begins designing more humane ways to handle livestock, finding ways to quell animals’ fears as they are ushered to their slaughter. (Temple Grandin is currently a Doctor of Animal Science at Colorado State University; she has also written several bestselling books on autism and livestock animal behavior.)

    This is where the genius of Temple Grandin eludes me – I admit that her devices and techniques are much more humane than the previous practices of slaughterhouses; but they are still slaughterhouses and the livestock are still treated (and fed) very poorly during their time “living” on these ranches. There are more humane ways to raise and treat cows – for one: don’t treat them as livestock, treat them as living beings. (To quote The Smiths’ “Meat is Murder”: “Heifer whines could be human cries / Closer comes the screaming knife / This beautiful creature must die / …A death for no reason is murder.”) In my heavily biased opinion (I am a longtime vegetarian – Clare Danes is too), I think there are more important changes necessary to the future of the livestock industry than making cows more comfortable before they are slaughtered. For example: they could be fed healthier meals, given more space to exercise, and cleaner air to breathe. But I digress…

    Also, by way of flashback, we learn that Temple did not speak until the age of four. Despite recommendations of institutionalizing Temple, her mother (Julia Ormond) never gave up hope. (Grandin is first to point out that her mother is the true hero in her story.) This is the strongest and most meaningful message within Temple Grandin – parents of autistic children should not give up hope! Sure, raising an autistic child can be a tremendous and frustrating challenge (I have not experienced this first-hand, but this seems to be the general consensus), but just because a child has autism does not mean that they are not talented or worthy of a normal life. Autistic children think and learn differently than other children, and that needs to be taken into consideration by parents, teachers and (most importantly) school districts. Society seems to want to institutionalize, or at least cast aside, anyone that does not fit into the norms established within our school systems rather than adapting to their individual needs.

    Temple Grandin is an acting tour-de-force for Claire Danes as she convincingly portrays Temple from her early teens well into her post-graduate years – a time-span of at least 30 years. Danes’ speech patterning, movements, facial expressions and reactions are what really sell her as Temple. Most importantly, Danes is able to fully control her performance so that she never becomes the all too familiar Hollywood caricature of autism. Temple Gradin grants Danes the opportunity to prove that she is no longer just the uber-cute girl from My So Called Life. (Faithful SLSS readers may remember that I gave Danes a poor review for her flat and uninspired performance in last year’s Me and Orson Welles, but her performance as Temple redeems my opinion of her acting talents ten-fold.)

    On a side note: within the last week, I watched (purely by coincidence) two films that seem to have some relevance to Temple GrandinFood, Inc. and Grey Gardens. Food, Inc. focuses on what I consider to be the greater horrors of the livestock industry and its effects on the people eating the meat. By no means a vegetarian diatribe, Food, Inc. focuses on the human health benefits to treating livestock more humanely. (Food, Inc. really biased my view of what Temple Grandin has to say about Grandin’s animal activism.) Grey Gardens had a completely different effect on me. After watching Grey Gardens and Temple Grandin it is clear to me that cable television is able to make movies on par with Hollywood. Both films feature award-worthy acting performances (Grey Gardens garnered a ton of awards this last season; Danes is destined for an Emmy and Golden Globe next year) that rival anything that has been released on the silver screen of late; and both films brilliantly shed the stereotypes of the poor production values that “made for TV” movies are traditionally renowned for.

    Rating: 7/10

    Topics: Film Reviews, News | 19 Comments »

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    • Aldine Wallace

      Remind me to never be a fan of Mick Jackson. He/she missed the point entirely blinded by his/her vegetarian bias. The movie was ABSOLUTELY wonderful, including the stupid cowbowys, and cowmen. Movie making at it’s finest. It took me on a roller-coaster ride unsurpassed in all my years of movie viewing. The only one I can think of to compare with it is Apocolypse Now. Hurray for HBO. True, Grey Gardens was wonderful as well.

    • denise

      As a mother of an 8 year old boy with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, I applaud Claire Danes portrayal of Temple Grandin. She really did her proud!

    • Adelaide Dupont

      I had no idea that William Carlock (Grandin’s science teacher) used to be part of NASA.

      I might have guessed. In the introduction/preface of Emergence, he mentions a rocketry building session.

      There was a young man for whom it was a BIG accomplishment.

      He could have given the award to Grandin, and he did say she arguably accomplished more.

      Carlock was a very fair-minded and decent man from his writing and his teaching.

    • edith grove

      The previous writer means (I think) Don Simpson the writer of the review, not Mick Jackson who is the director of the film.

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    • Doris Potter

      I agree with Don Simpson. Temple Grandin’s work cannot be isolated from the fact that these animals are still suffering miserable lives with painful endings for no good enough reason. For all her good intentions at the beginning, she ends up being so embedded in the industry that she is helping to perpetuate it.

    • Frank Verdi

      Probably the best TV movie I’ve ever seen – Easily a ten.

      Why Don Simpson’s review expects Claire Dane or Ms Temple Grandin to personally resolve all the ills related to animal slaughter is a mystery. Also what he failed to mention is that neither woman provided an effective cure for Mad Cow disease.

    • LanceThruster

      I’ve always loved movies about truth-tellers; the challenges of autism only added to that. I never fail to be amazed by just how consistently they are told to shut up for a multitude of reasons (ego, insecurity, ignorance, vindictiveness, criminality, etc.) by those of the prevailing order.

      Did not expect to enjoy this movie as thoroughly as I did.

    • Don

      As the author of this review, I would like to clarify that in my opinion a rating of 7/10 is very positive. I liked this film a lot and I thought my writing reflected that.

      The confusion seems to stem from my comments concerning the real Temple Grandin’s much praised role in making the livestock industry less inhumane by making the cattle’s death march more tolerable — those comments were by no means a critique of this film (or of Claire Danes for that matter). The comments were concerning the history of praise in real life.

      I don’t think Temple Grandin is in any way at fault for any of this. She made important improvements in the livestock industry, I have no problems with what she has suggested or done. It is purely the overwhelming attitude that the changes that Grandin has suggested for the livestock industry are enough.

      And I do not hold Temple Grandin in any way accountable for making any of the improvements that I personally feel are more important to raising healthier cows and healthier meat.

      I think it is possible to still enjoy this film no matter what your opinions of the livestock industry are.

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    • Janice Robertson

      After watching the movie Temple Grandin, I was amazed at how much she accomplished and how much she wanted to learn and achieve. I shake my head at all the people in the United States who take education for granted. Although, she highlights making slaughterhouses more humane, the fact is that most people cannot boast the accomplishments she has achieved. She is truly an amazing woman and deserves respect. She did not set out to single handedly change the industry, she wanted to make some parts of the process better for the animals. What a wonderful movie about someone who triumphed over so many obstacles to achieve so much.

    • Krispy

      An otherwise good review, derailed when the reviewer became preoccupied with his own political beliefs about the livestock industry. How does that have any relevance to the film at all? If you’d reviewed, for instance, David Fincher’s “Seven,” how many paragraphs would you have devoted to personal opposition to murder and torture? And how in the world did you ever convince yourself that it made sense to quote the f—–g Smiths in this review? Is this a first draft? You messed up and published your first draft, didn’t you? Or do you just not re-read and edit yourself for content?

    • laylalula

      This movie totally amazed me….It’s the closest I think I’ll ever get to understanding what it must be like for my daughter who is diagnosed with the same disorder…. Wow!

    • Seashellroom

      From the writer down to the Actors, right on to Temple Grandin. I will am purchasing the book today. After viewing the HBO movie. Veggans “Hush” the respect the writers put into this movie was great! I will tell all of my family and church family about this movie. Temple Grandin I have so much admiration for the achievements that you are making with autism.
      Loved it**********

    • Tony Lewis

      What a great movie; for me, one of those gems that I come across from time to time where I stumble onto it as I’m spinning the dial, knowing absolutely nothing about the main character and very little about the subject matter (autism) and am totally knocked out. Danes is sensational in the title role and deserves every award out there. Grandin’s autism is depicted intelligently and sympathetically and her portrayal by Danes presents her (Grandin) as an extraordinary human being. Fabulous.

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    • Charlenerox25

      The movie was awesome. Im a spec ed teacher and Temple explanation of autism was amazing. She truly has a gift from God and she used her gift to change things not perpectuate. I dont see anyone else taking a stand so stop complaining.