Sunday, February 7, 2010

Claire Danes as Temple Grandin

I saw Temple Grandin on HBO last night, and loved it. Especially Claire Danes in the title role, based upon the real-life figure of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who is currently a professor at Colorado State University specializing in animal behavior, and who has designed pens and buildings for livestock which have made the treatment of cattle more humane, as well as a "hug machine," based on chutes used to hold cattle still while they're being inoculated, which many autistics have found to be a great help in calming down and gathering their wits when they become agitated. This has to be the best movie portrayal of an autistic person by a non-autistic actor since Rain Man. (A couple of amusing pieces of trivia about Rain Man: 1) When he was getting ready to play Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman consulted -- ta da! -- Temple Grandin; 2) The man upon whom Rain Man was based isn't actually autistic.) This movie is all about Claire Danes, it's built very much around her, portraying Grandin mostly in her high-school and college years, and man oh man does she ever hit a home run. David Strathairn is good as a science teacher who was a huge help in Grandin's life, being one of the first to sense the dimensions of genius under her strange exterior, but he and the other supporting players don't have much to do but react to Danes. If I had to criticize something in the movie, I'd say that the other actors besides Danes could've been given more to do, their characters could've been more complex. You know -- with lives of their own, with at least an occasional glimpse into their own ups and downs and problems and triumphs and all. Despite that one reservation, props to Christopher Monger for a great screenplay, and to Mick Jackson, the director. (I can't believe one and the same man directed this and The Bodyguard. "And Iiiiiii, will always looove yooooooouuu-HOOOOOO!!!!" Yes, THAT Bodyguard.) The scenes showing how Grandin "thinks in pictures" and the graphics suggesting the high-speed calculations going on in her head are great. Alex Wurman's music is really wonderful in spots, recalling, in its calmer moments, the work of Philip Glass, although, ironically, over the end credits, which feature pictures of the real Temple Grandin, the music became much more busy and effusive, and gave this autistic a bad case of sensory overload. But mostly, it's Ms Danes. Wow. So good. You immediately forget that you're watching a glamorous movie star, and instead you see a very awkward and skittish, profoundly autistic young woman who is constantly misunderstood by other people and is constantly misunderstanding them, and has problems with all sorts of things which don't bother most people at all. The automatic sliding glass doors at a grocery store completely overwhelm her, for example, so she gives up trying to go through them and shops at a little store across the street instead. The squeaking of a felt-tipped pen on paper annoys and distracts her to the point that she cannot follow a conversation. The maid at her aunt's ranch accidentally knocks the sign that says "Temple Grandin's room" off of the door to her bedroom, and this sends her into a meltdown. (I don't know how it happened in real life, but in the movie, when Danes/Drandin sees that the sign has been knocked off of the door, she runs outside to the cattle inoculation chute, climbs inside, screams for help, and asks her aunt, who comes running, to press her tightly inside the chute, and so the "hug machine" is born.) (Not all autistics are always bothered by being hugged. I just thought I should mention that. If the autistic person is verbally functional, you could ask instead of assuming that a hug isn't wanted. It's possible that an autistic kid would just love a good hug but is too shy to point out that your assumption that he or she doesn't want to be hugged is wrong in his or her case. Also, one and the same autistic person may like having you hug them at one time and not want to be touched at all at another time, without there necessarily being the slightest reason for you to take it personally. I'm just sayin'.) The sliding doors and the felt-tipped pen and the sign are good examples of the kinds of things we autistics struggle with constantly, good examples of the reasons why from time to time we behave in ways which most people find very strange, and Danes, to this autistic, and also to more neurologically-typical folks, to judge from the reviews, conveys this struggle very convincingly. Danes is brilliant portraying Grandin, and the Temple Grandin she portrays brilliantly, courageously, tenaciously overcomes the obstacles in her path and expresses her special gifts, to the great benefit of cattle and the livestock industry, and to the great benefit of autistics, showing us and showing the world the sorts of things that we can do. We're not all geniuses like her, we don't all have photographic memory like her, we're not all good at building things with our hands like her, but like her, we see and hear and feel the world differently than most people, and, although this definitely causes difficulties, it always has its good side too. Don't assume we want to be "cured." I'm sure most of us would love to be better understood. Most of us are constantly struggling to better understand most of you.

No comments:

Post a Comment