CAPSULE: Made for HBO, this biopic is the best film so far this year. This is a story of Temple Grandin, a doctor of animal science, a college professor, and a person with autism. She has used her individualized condition to reexamine livestock handling, to redesign animal handling mechanisms, and to shed new light on the autistic mind. Clare Danes gives a hypnotic performance and director Mick Jackson keeps the film as visually interesting and full of ideas. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
I had a special reason for wanting to see the film THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS when it was released. I had seen the film MANHUNTER, the first film with Hannibal Lecter as a character. In it, the detective is talking to Lecter (played by Brian Cox) and Lecter was drawing deductions from clues that had been found to the identity of another serial killer. Lecter says that blood looks black in moonlight and uses that obscure fact as a clue. The whole film was about how only a psychopath can get inside the mind of a psychopath. I wondered if that was a fictional assumption or if it was true. TEMPLE GRANDIN, a film on much the same subject, is a factual biography of the title character. Temple Grandin is a world-famous expert on autism and on cattle handling. Her expertise of autism comes firsthand. She herself is autistic and at the same time she is a genius. And while it is probably impossible for someone not autistic to get into the mind of someone who is, this film makes a valiant attempt at showing visually Grandin's particular type of autism. But this is not a film like Lifetime Television's disease of the week. While telling the story the film repeatedly gives us visual explanations of how Grandin's autism works. Showing the inner workings of the mind of a genius has not been done so well since A BEAUTIFUL MIND and is done considerably better here.
Sadly, this best film so far this year is ineligible for any Oscars. That is because it was made for and premiered on HBO. It did win seven Emmy awards including Outstanding Made For Television Movie, Best Directing, Best Lead Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. Clair Danes's performance is the best of her career, probably by a wide margin. Also great is David Strathairn as the most inspiring high school teacher since OCTOBER SKY.
The film opens during the pivotal summer when Temple is nineteen years old and will be starting college in the fall. She is spending the summer on her aunt's farm. This is much a mixed blessing for all concerned. Temple can be very hard to deal with and harder to understand. She has a broad set of eccentricities that will frequently send her into tantrums. For example, she often refuses any food but yogurt and jello, and she cannot walk through automatic doors.
Temple thinks not in terms of words but in visual images. We are told and see that any object she sees brings a flood of related images from her past. But she is also extremely mechanically minded. She redesigns small mechanisms like the farmyard gate. Temple also has a phenomenal understanding of animals and has the odd ability to place herself into their minds and see things from their perspective. That story would be remarkable enough, but director Mick Jackson places us in Temple's mind. Contacts with simple objects bring staccato collages of images to the screen. When Temple is thinking mechanically we see labeled schematics of the devices she is planning. The film continues showing her education and career and fills in her past with flashbacks.
Through her life she suffers prejudice and misunderstanding as well as facing her own personal demons with fear of people, her own confusion, bewilderment, and horror. Nevertheless she is able to turn her personal genius and perspectives into a doctor's degree and an influential career. Her eloquence combined with her autism sheds new light into the brains of the autistics. As a personal story this is a fairly good film and quite engaging. But for its visual presentation of ideas of science on the screen it is very nearly unique.
This is an exceptional film and could very likely be my best film of the year. I rate it a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. The film TEMPLE GRANDIN is now also available on DVD. Oliver Sacks does an extensive case study on Temple Grandin in the title article of his book AN ANTRHOPOLOGIST ON MARS.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1278469/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/temple_grandin/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper