The film follows Temple Grandin’s life through a series of flashbacks. As a child, Grandin (Danes) is uncommunicative and prone to tantrums and is diagnosed with autism. The medical consensus at that time was that autism is a form of schizophrenia resulting from insufficient maternal affection. Despite recommendations to place her in an institution, Grandin’s mother (Ormond) hires therapists and works to help her daughter adapt to social interaction.
As a teenager, Temple travels to her aunt (O’Hara) and uncle’s ranch to work. She observes cows being placed into a squeeze chute to calm them, and during an anxiety attack uses the chute to calm herself. Inspired by her teacher, Dr. Carlock (Strathairn) to pursue science, she is admitted to college where she develops an early version of the squeeze machine to calm her during stressful times. Her college misinterprets the use of the machine as a sexual act and forces her to remove it. In response, she develops a scientific protocol to test subjects’ reactions to the machine, proving it to be a purely therapeutic device. Grandin graduates with a degree in psychology and pursues a master’s degree in animal science.
Temple faces sexism while attempting to integrate into the world of cattle ranching, but ultimately designs a new dip structure designed to allow cattle to voluntarily move through rather than being forced. Ranch hands, not understanding her design, alter it resulting in the drowning of a number of cows, but Grandin is able to reverse their changes and the design works as intended.
The conclusion of the film depicts an autism convention which Temple and her mother attend. Given the rudimentary state of autism research, the speaker cannot answer many questions from the audience, but Temple speaks out from the crowd explaining how she has adapted. Temple also describes her mother’s contributions to her success. Excited by the opportunity to hear from someone with real experience, the audience calls her to the podium marking Temple’s transition into autism advocacy.
Initial release: February 6, 2010
Director: Mick Jackson
Music composed by: Alex Wurman
Awards: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie, More
Screenplay: Christopher Monger, William Merritt Johnson
Time: 2 hours
Winchester Disability Access Commission, Brio Integrated Theatre, the Winchester MultiCultural Network and the Winchester Public Library