About That Autism Biopic
I was a big fan of Claire Danes and My So-Called Life back in 1994. I was some years past the age of teenage angst, but Angela Chase's musings, grumblings, and yearnings still resonated with me.
Ever since hearing that Danes would be playing Temple Grandin in an HBO biopic, I've been trying to get my head around her as the "famous author and animal sciences professor" who is "a beloved figure, even a heroic one," in the words of the January 29th New York Times. To prepare for her part, Danes describes a six-hour meeting with Grandin, who talked about her sensory sensitivities and "about the way she perceives the world, how loud sounds, for instance, cause her physical pain, how she is always hyper-vigilant." At the end of the meeting, Grandin gave Danes a hug, with the actress noting "'You know, for her [Grandin], that’s not easy. So that was very moving for me. That was the validation that I was looking for.'" According to the New York Times, Grandin also gave Danes some rather cryptic advise about a "postpartum depression" letdown after making the film: "'[Grandin] told [Danes], ‘You must be very careful, because you are investing a lot of yourself in this, and there is going to be a fall, and you have to protect yourself from that.'”
Understandable that Grandin would take the cinematic portrayal of her life so seriously. Danes's performance will certainly come under a lot of scrutiny for the "authenticity" and "accuracy" of her portrayal of an autistic woman. The New York Times article emphasizes Danes's acting in the biopic for being "both emotionally transparent and intelligently complex"; a heightened ability to feel and sense and a highly original intelligence are the very qualities that are often said to stand out in Grandin. I'm sure there will be a plethora of comparisons to Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man and, inevitably, to Grandin on film herself, with individuals on the spectrum to families of children on the spectrum to professionals of all sorts weighing in.
(I suppose it might give us all something else to blog about besides Dr. Wakefield……)
My own response will be a bit second-hand as ours is a TV-less household; I'll be viewing YouTube clips of the movie primarily. It's hard not to anticipate cringing a bit: I know it's just not possible for me to watch a movie about Temple Grandin's life as "entertainment" and "just a movie." Even if I'm only watching a snippet of the movie, my "but is that really what I'd like people to think about autism?" radar will be up.
There's also a couple of references in the New York Times article about the movie being "inspirational," presumably because of its basic plotline of Grandin as a severely challenged child who grows up to achieve an unexpected, and highly unique, success. The film's plotline is (rather tongue-in-cheekly) summed up as "an autistic woman who beat the odds to revolutionize the slaughterhouse industry." Is it possible to have a popular story about autism in which an autistic individual doesn't exactly "beat the odds"? Or maybe a better way to put it is that "beating the odds" doesn't have to mean revolutionizing industrial practices regarding animal husbandry. More often around here, "beating the odds" simply means making it through another day, working out a path for Charlie amid obstacles that most people wouldn't consider such.
In the case of Saturday morning, it was getting Charlie out of the gym of his school where he'd been peacefully participating in a basketball session—walking the track, dropping the ball into a hoop on the court floor—and then, after one too many requests to get up and play after one-minute breaks, he couldn't take it anymore. Jim got him out of the gym in a very unhappy state—all the more tough because Charlie had been doing good following instructions from someone he didn't know and, too, was at a new activity (and how off-putting to be inside his school on a Saturday morning). After too long, when Charlie was finally calm though shaken, Jim and I reminded each other that we don't know (who does) every last thing about autism, but we do know a great deal about Charlie. Eventually it would be good for him to do the activities with an aide, but the whole set-up of Saturday basketball was new to Charlie, and, as it was, many of the other kids were throwing around basketballs with their parents. Jim and I also reminded each other, better to quit while you're ahead—we should have left when Charlie was doing well (as another friend did with his son).
Because, "beating the odds" is not about staying to the end of a 45-minute session or about shooting a basket, or about revolutionizing industries or inventing new technologies. Often I'm reminded, if we can get Charlie and us through these adolescent and teenage years in (preferably) more or less one piece, I'll give us all the equivalent of an Academy Award.
Yes, "us." We're still that tight team o' three, meaning that Charlie upset means we're all shaken up. And it also means, we're sticking together, come what may.
And so, rather than slump home and sigh behind a closed door, we ventured back to Red Hook in Brooklyn (Jim's giving a reading there on Wednesday) and then drove over to Chelsea Piers on the west side of Manhattan, and then back to Jersey—and a long (and, yes, cold) walk that we were all back inside.
Not a storybook day but—-pace, HBO—that's not what this blog proffers but rather, a very real life.