Saturday, June 11, 2011

Temple Grandin and "Temple Grandin"

I do not subscribe to HBO, so I usually catch up late with their acclaimed films and series.  "Angels in America" and "Six Feet Under" have been two of my favorite works of film in any medium.  Now I can add "Temple Grandin" to this list.

I knew nothing of the real Temple Grandin until I picked up and read one of her books, "Animals in Translation".  In this candid and brave story, Grandin describes her struggles with autism and the way her disability altered her ways of thinking and perceiving the world.  As she discovered her affinity for animals and her ability to "think" like they do (in images) and empathize with their behavior, she completed an advanced degree, developed into an animal advocate, and re-designed a less cruel existence and end for farm animals that are raised for food. 

Sinclair Lewis and "The Jungle" aside, many holding pens and slaughterhouses are still terribly cruel places for animals who make an ultimate sacrifice for human consumption.  Even in the best of conditions, many feel that the idea of animal slaughter is upsetting, distasteful, and unnecessary. Grandin took a practical approach, accepting the fact that as long as these animals are still being bred and raised for food, she encouraged and championed for a more humane end to their lives. 

However, even an organization like Mercy for Animals, which leads a growing movement to completely end the slaughter of animals in favor of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, recognize her expertise, calling her "the world's leading expert on farmed-animal welfare... (and) an associate professor of livestock behavior at Colorado State University and an animal welfare advisor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the meat industry".  Her letters condemning the horrible conditions and animal treatment at many livestock farms are frequently published on the Mercy for Animals web site. (Here's another link)

I started reading Grandin's book because I love reading about animals and animal behavior.  When I finished, Grandin had become sort of a personal hero of mine, overcoming her disability, which was little understood then, educating herself and using her unique passion and understanding of animals for a greater good.

Claire Danes captures Dr. Grandin's mannerisms and speech patterns in the HBO film "Temple Grandin", but this is much more than an act of mimicry.  Danes found deep reservoirs of anger and fear and courage to reveal Grandin's passion and single-mindedness from the inside out.  Scenes from Grandin's early years are especially compelling and entertaining.  Danes wins us over to this difficult yet inspiring character, and helps us feel her rages and extreme bouts of panic, which she learned to alleviate with her invention of a "squeeze machine".  By discovering that cattle calmed down when held tightly in place and "hugged" by the walls of their holding pens, Grandin used her incredible skill to engineer and build her own device for her school dorm room. This is an especially ironic and creative incident in the film, as we understand Grandin's terror of human physical contact.

From her school days to her work with the department of agriculture, "Temple Grandin" is well-paced and authentic in every detail.  Director Mick Jackson uses cinematic language to suggest Grandin's weird and wonderful perceptions of the world.  The film is carried by Danes with terrific support from Julia Ormond as her perplexed mother, Catherine O'Hara as her understanding Aunt, and David Strathairn as a sympathetic and forward-thinking professor who believes in Grandin and mentors her through her education.

This film was the deserving recipient of seven Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, an Eddie (film editor's guild) award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Director's Guild Award, and a Peabody Award. 
I urge you to see it for inspiration, information, and understanding.  It's unlike most films you've been likely to have seen, and it's one you will feel better about yourself having seen.


  1. Well prepared write-up as per usual, Tom. I'm glad you too recognized that Danes' performance wasn't just a good impersonation, a la Jamie Foxx in Ray, but a full immersion and understanding as well. Grandin is such an amazing woman, and I'm frankly surprised no film depicting her life had been made before this.

  2. What a great review Tom! Thanks for the links. I loved this film so much so I watched it as many times as I could when it ran on HBO. I cried like a baby each time too.
    One of the great quotes in the movie that I'll never forget was when Temple said "Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be."

  3. You guys rock....
    It's great to know you both enjoyed this film as much as I did.
    LUKE: Wouldn't you have loved to see this for the first time along with Grandin? To get her spontaneous, unvarnished reaction? I share your admiration.
    STAN: I think between the two of us we helped Kleenex stock move up several points!