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At The Movies

Temple Grandin

Before I watched this week’s at the Movies feature, I had never heard of Temple Grandin. In fact, I thought I was going to watch a movie about a grand temple, maybe an archaeological dig or something.

If we take the Word of God seriously, the film Temple Grandin is kind of about a grand temple. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, after all, and Temple Grandin, the real-life woman, is a vessel of God that holds unique treasures she has been able to share with the entire world. It’s only recently that human civilization has been willing to see her as that treasured child of God.

Temple Grandin: What to Expect

Temple Grandin is a biographical drama film starring Claire Danes as Temple Grandin. The movie, which was made for television and premiered on HBO in 2010, won several awards including five Primetime Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild prizes for Claire Danes.

Temple Grandin was born in 1947 and was diagnosed with autism when she was four years old. Her mother fought hard to keep her out of an institution, which had been recommended by doctors and professionals during that time, but with little help from professionals, she struggled to know how to help her daughter. 

The film begins with a summer vacation spent on Temple’s aunt and uncle’s ranch, helping with cattle. Temple develops a deep fascination and concern for the livestock. The film captures Temple’s journey from adolescence at a boarding school, to college and onward to graduate school, depicting how the autistic brain perceives the world, alongside the trials and injustices endured by the misunderstood.

Finding the Love: Faithifying Your Viewing

In biblical times, individuals who were born with physical or mental handicaps were considered unclean. Their brokenness or differences were thought to be the product of sin and the result of God’s judgment on individuals for their sins. 

But Jesus came to shatter those misconceptions and the million other ways we’ve gotten it wrong throughout history. Wherever people had separated themselves from others, Jesus knocked down the dividing walls and erased the dividing line. In their place, he called people to build bridges of empathy and understanding rooted in the rich soil of love.

It’s easy to look back on the biblical era and smile knowingly about how barbaric, ignorant, and cruel people were to each other. But Temple was born in 1947, less than a century ago. The segregation imposed by Jim Crow laws were still in full force. Hitler and Nazi Germany sent countless people  to concentration campsand gas chambers to try to shape a more perfect human race. And it wasn’t until the very recent past that scientists and physicians have begun to understand the complex, different and beautiful ways the mind and body operate. Temple suffered cruelty and abuse by classmates and adults who simply didn’t understand her autistic mind and found it appropriate to reject, laugh at and hurt her because she was different.

As the Teacher of Ecclesiastes laments, there is nothing new under the sun. We are still slowly turning, slowly turning toward love.

I don’t understand why we mock and hate what is different from us when our Lord constantly leads with love. He showed the world that every single person was, in Temple’s words, “different, not less,” and yet time and time again, instead of leading with love and defaulting to compassion, we leave it up to those who appear different to prove they are special in order for us to value their lives. In this way, Temple’s story broke my heart.

I like to believe that we seem to live in a gentler world now. Perhaps we have compassion and empathy and understanding we as a society have lacked, in some cases for centuries upon centuries. But there are still those who are different. There are still those who are rejected because of their differences. Humanity is still ever slowly turning toward love.

Claire Danes plays autistic animal behaviorist, Temple Grandin. Temple Grandin (2010) © HBO, Home Box Office, Inc. Image Courtesy of IMDb.com.

I recently read Where Goodness Still Grows by Amy Peterson, and she describes love manifesting as curiosity. When we’re curious about others, we want to know them more and to know them more, is to love them more fully. Temple Grandin is curious. Her mind allows her to see the world in a way that most of our minds don’t. Once her mind is set on solving a problem that is presented to her, she pursues the solution relentlessly. Curiosity drives her through doors that were closed, and love manifesting itself as curiosity drove others to hold doors open for her.

While Temple’s experience shows us what it looks like when we extend compassion and understanding to those who are different, she also demonstrates that same love and compassion toward other members of God’s creation. “We are the same,” Temple tells her blind roommate, “only you have sound and I have pictures.” 

“Nature is cruel but we don’t have to be,” Temple says. “We owe them some respect. The slaughterhouse is a mess and I know exactly how to fix it.”

Through her unique perspective and compassion for cattle, Temple advocates for the humane treatment of livestock and awareness about our part in the cycle of livestock. Using her different way of seeing the world, she makes the world a better place.

Temple’s exceptional mind and experiences echo what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about the one Spirit that gives spiritual gifts to the big and bold and diverse body of Christ. Paul told them how love is the most excellent way to live and what that love looks like and then he reminded them, now we see dimly, but sometime in the future, it will all be made clear.

We’re 2,000 years in the future now. The shortcomings and failures and ignorance of humanity is illuminated well for us to see from this point in time. Of course those things were wrong, we say, we can see clearly now. But when we turn our eyes to this present moment, we still see dimly. We still have so much room to grow.

Temple Grandin is a beautiful, poignant story with many layers of humanity’s shortcomings and graces. Follow curiosity–perhaps it will be a door that opens for you to walk through into a new land cultivated with love.