Temple Grandin, a girl born in 1947, barely uttered a word until she was four. She was born Autistic. She used her autism, the ability to think in pictures, to her advantage and expounded issues that are invisible to a neurotypical person. She is now a world renowned doctor of animal science, an activist for autistic people, and a professor at Colorado State University. She became famous when renowned Neurologist Oliver Sacks mentioned her uniqueness in his essay ‘An Anthropologist from Mars’ published in 1995.
This biopic (2010) starts with Temple Grandin, played by Claire Danes, staying with her aunt for summer, where she is fascinated by cattle crush, a device used to calm cattle down. Her panic attacks, obsessions, fears and inability to comprehend human emotion, swiftly reveal her individuality to those around her. However, only those close to her realize her ability to think in a special way and how this unique facility gives her a perspective hidden from typical beings.
Her science teacher at college realized her distinctive mode of thinking and despite all the opposition tried to channelize her abilities. She faced difficulties at college and university because her co-students made fun of the way she acted. She developed for herself a hugging machine which helped her find solace when she got disturbed. She worked her way through all the troubles, by hard-work, passion and with help of individuals who realized her speciality. Her journey is portrayed at a fine pace in the movie and every frame conveys an important message.
The movie takes an important turn when Temple Grandin gets a blind girl as her roommate at University. And in one scene while Temple Grandin is calming herself down in the hugging machine, and the blind roommate recognizes that she seems calm from her voice, she must be in the hugging machine. At this, Temple Grandin says to her roommate that they are quite similar, only difference being that her roommate thinks in sounds, and Temple Grandin thinks in pictures. This scene appears to be the climax of the movie, loaded with emotions, meanings and important messages. The ability to think differently from neurotypical beings is an asset for the human race, because it can help us broaden our observations, and with this combined knowledge we can improve our processes, systems and actions. Temple Grandin makes this point beautifully in her TED talk.
Portraying a psychological/ neurological disorder is a huge ordeal for any actor/ actress. Clair Danes shows remarkable devotion to the subject, making her performance engrossing and hypnotic. The vague facial expressions during conversation, the questioning eyes, and the unique manner of speech of autistic people are displayed remarkably by Clair Danes. Watching Temple Grandin, herself, speak at the TED conference; I was mesmerized at the striking resemblance in the manner of speech and facial expressions.
The biopic gives us a journey inside the mind of the autistic people and aids us in understanding the world from an autistic perspective. It’s a must watch for all those interested in neuro-sciences, psychology, medicine and teaching.