Sunday, August 19, 2012
WHY I'LL NEVER WATCH "TEMPLE GRANDIN" AGAIN. (But I highly recommend it for everyone else.) A LOOK AT HOW SUBJECTS CAN BE TOO PERSONAL AND REAL TO WATCH
Last night, I finally got around to watching the HBO movie, "Temple Grandin".I had purposefully been putting it off for some time, but eventually I got around to it. In terms of a movie, it was quite entertaining, and very well-made. The way in which they managed to edit the movie, using imaginary images, while juxtaposing numerous photographic images and film pictures together, to get a sense of how Temple's mind works was quite inventive, and creative. I also want to point, how while I've always loved Claire Danes, I hadn't really thought about her as one of the greatest actresses working today, until now, and now I want to kick myself for now having that observation previously. The performances were strong, and it was quite a powerful biopic, one of the best I've seen in a while in fact. It was very good, and now I can proudly declare that I have absolutely no intention of ever seeing it again. Didn't want to see it this time. In fact, it was a physical struggle for me to sit through this film.
You see, the title character, Temple Grandin is autistic. I've known who she is, long before this movie ever came out. I can give you the statistics on autism, and symptoms, and the signs, and the fact that there's no cure, and no identified cause either, but you can go look those up on any medical website. The statistic I care about is one, my brother. While my Mom is at work, I, a 27 year-old college graduate, spend my days watching my autistic brother. Frankly, I think one of the reasons I spend so much time devoted to movies and television and other forms of entertainment is that I basically use whatever I can to distract myself from my life. I think we all do that to some extent. It's a curious conundrum though. They tell us when we begin creative writing in some way, in my case, mostly screenplays, to start with the idea "Write what you know." Frankly, when it comes to what I know, I often don't want to write about it. Frankly, I don't want to watch it either, especially when I have to live with it all day. That's another oddity. We often watch such things as film and television to find characters and situations that relate to us. Things that we can identify with, or short of that, things we would like to be able to experience and/or identify with. It's a natural dilemma, we want to identify with a character, but not so much that we're watching our lives on screen. Now, my brother, Robbie, is nothing like Temple Grandin. Yes, they're both autistic, but she's a much more high-functioning autistic than my brother. She wasn't always, and they made note of that, and sometimes that does happen. It didn't with my brother, but there was definitely a lot that I related to with that film, too much so for me to really say that I enjoyed it. That's a typical problem with many kinds of films. They used to say that you couldn't have a movie or TV show that took place in an office, because too many people work in offices, and they don't want to come home and feel like they're at work when they're trying to be entertained. Some would say that "The Office,"'s success on American TV is proof that that hypothesis is incorrect. (Some of you who might be saying "Office Space," I'd point out that A., that was more of a revenge fantasy for an office worker, and also that it wasn't a major success when it first came out.)
I think we all will eventually run into something in entertainment that will make us cringe, not because of what's in the movie itself, but because the way it's done is too close on a personal level, and oftentimes, that will mean that we aren't particularly capable of watching the film properly. I mentioned one, briefly, a long time ago that I had that problem originally with the film "Mercury Rising". For those who don't remember, A. you're lucky, and B. that a film where Bruce Willis had to investigate a murder of the parents of a little autistic boy, and had a startling accurate portrayal of a young kid who had autism, and the difficulties involved in having to watch over him. I watched that film once, years ago. Now, I recognize how terrible the film is, as I recognize now the insipid way the filmmaker's used autism as a plot device to springboard the film into an high-level government conspiracy/action thriller shoot-em-up film, which really is just wrong on so many levels, but at the time, especially knowing how bizarrely accurate they portrayed autism in the film, it just simply unnerved me. It took me years, maybe a decade, for me to think back on that film subjectively to realize it's structural flaws. The other similar experience I had was in a middle school class, I don't remember the subject, but we were watching the original version of "The Miracle Worker". During the scene, were Anne Sullivan, played by Anne Bancroft, was doing everything to Helen Keller, played by Patty Duke, in order to get her to sit down and eat her dinner, including throwing a bucket of water of her, on top of lots of other unusual learning tactics, the class was laughing and getting really excited. The teacher had predicted that reaction even beforehand, giving us the expectation that a memorable and fun scene was forthcoming. For most of the class, it was just that. When the bell rang for the next class, I couldn't get out of my chair right away. I didn't laugh, I wasn't excited, I was just trying to regain my composure. When the teacher noticed my reaction, I explained to her that, having an autistic brother, the scene was a bit, "too real" for me. It was, so I took a minute, and showed up a little late for lunch I think. It might've been the next class, I don't remember now.
I bet many of you might be thinking about "Rain Man," and actually, that was a film that I used to love when I was younger. Yes, it was accurate, but it also told a good story around it, that wasn't condescending. It also helped that my brother isn't a savant like "Rain Man," so I didn't necessarily associate myself or my brother into the film, especially so that we were both much younger back then. Now though, as we're both much older, and I know that someday my brother will eventually have to be sent to some place that will hopefully take care of him, it isn't as watchable a film for me that it used to be.
I think the conundrum that I'm coming down to, is this, awkward area between real life and entertainment, and just how much real life can/should be in entertainment. I made a decision years ago that personally, I would never write about my personal experiences, if at all possible, regarding my life, directly. Symbolically, I have, but literally, I'm never revealing that part of my life to people. It wasn't an easy choice by the way; there was a time where I thought, one of my objectives in choosing filmmaking as a major and career choice, was to put my life, the way I saw it, and experienced it, out there, so others can understand. A lot of people do things like that, and the best of those artists, managed to make it palatable, and even relateable to the masses. Eventually though, I realized that, why I wanted to get into film was to escape from it whenever I can. So, why would I want to have others experience it? It quite simply didn't make sense. That doesn't mean that films shouldn't be made about the subject, it just means that I would rather not be the one making them, because personally, I'd rather not see them. Like I said, when I look I don't want to be reminded of my life. That's why I'll never watch "Temple Grandin," again, but on the other hand, I'm glad I did watch it, and I'm very happy that someone as amazing as her, did finally get to have her amazing life story made into a movies. People like Temple Grandin should have movies made about her. Not because she's autistic, but because she's an extraordinary person, period. As a film viewer, I overcame my personal prejudices to watch, which I think we should do no matter what subject matter gets under our own personal skin, if for nothing else, but because it allows for us to enjoy such amazing and talented works. It isn't easy; I can't claim that it gets any easier over time. For some of us, no matter how rigidly they may stick to a classical structure, some things we watch to entertain us, will not be nearly as cathartic an experience that we wish them to be, even if it was intended to be one. I highly recommend that everybody should watch "Temple Grandin". (or at least wikipedia Temple Grandin, and learn a bit about her) I say that not because I know about autism, I say it because it's a good movie. I'm happy I can say that, but I have no intention of reliving it, ever again. That may hypocritical to some extent, but to me, it's just, simply, a personal truth of mine.