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Film / Temple Grandin

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"Different... not less."

"Nature is cruel! But we don't have to be."
Temple Grandin

Dr. Carlock: Can you bring everything you see into your mind?
Temple: Sure!... C-Can't you?

A 2010 Biopic about doctor, professor and best-selling author Temple Grandin (Claire Danes), who happens to be autistic.

The film covers the beginnings of Temple's life as a small girl in the 1950s, when her condition was classified as maternal neglect. Temple's mother, who knows this isn't true and does not want her daughter to be institutionalized, is able to teach Temple to talk, read and think like everyone else by the time she is only 4 years old.

When she graduates from high school, Temple lives at her aunt's ranch for the summer, where she becomes fascinated by the workings of the ranch and the cattle. She goes on to college, and a series of flashbacks shows how Temple got to where she was today, with the help of a high school science teacher who knew she could learn. Dr. Carlock helps Temple realize her abilities, and she learns that her autism helps her observe things in a way that she is able to use later in life to design a cattle dip, which almost every cattle ranch in America uses today.

The film is heartwarming, tear-jerking and beautiful, even so far that the real Temple Grandin thought it was a masterpiece. Temple Grandin was nominated for fifteen Emmy Awards and won seven, including the Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Made for Television Movie and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.


  • Abusive Parents: Subverted. While the doctors claim this is why Temple is autistic, the mother and audience know she was just born this way. (In general, the idea that autism was caused by so-called "refrigerator mothers" was widely accepted by the medical establishment in the 1950s and 1960s, but this is now discredited.)
  • Arc Words: Several of Temple's quotes end up recurring across the film as they tie into its themes.
    • "My name is Temple Grandin, and I'm not like other people!"
    • "A door opened, and I walked through it!"
    • "Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be."
  • Back Story: Since the film starts when Temple has already graduated from high school, this is how we learn about her past.
  • Berserk Button:
    • What ever you do, do not mess with Temple's cattle dip.
    • Or touch her. More so when she was a child, when her frustrated mother tried to grab her arm, Temple turned around and gasped, looking like she was about to kill her mother.
    • Placing Temple in a new place gives her panic attacks, shown twice in the movie. The first time, however, her Aunt puts a sign on the door that says "Temple's Room", and she's fine. Until the sign accidentally gets knocked onto the floor. Temple can see it on the floor right next to the door, but since it's not on the door, her room suddenly becomes hell.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with our heroine looking at the camera and saying, "My name is Temple Grandin!" in front of an abstract background. While at the beginning, it's in front of a closed room, by the end of the film she's standing in front of a wide open sky.
    • Some people were half expecting the film to complete the entire opening line, (My name is Temple Grandin, I'm not like other people,) but it stops after she introduces herself, now that everyone knows she's not like other people.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Temple talks directly to the audience at the beginning of the film.
  • Broken Record: Temple repeats a line she heard in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. over and over again in one scene, with the exact same inflection every time. "Would you like for me to o-pen the gate?"
  • Celibate Hero: Temple isn't married and has no children because she doesn't want to.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Temple tends to be one of these when she's peeved, such as when she was with her aunt in the back of the truck discussing what faces Temple makes when she's happy, satisfied, etc. (Temple tries to point out that even though she doesn't smile, she's still happy in a snarker-ish way.)
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: A major theme in the movie. The differences now and in the 1950's/1960's in our understanding of autism is the obvious example. However, another example occurs when she is living with her aunt at the cattle ranch, where the ranchers constantly mock her desire to work in cattle ranching, because she's a woman. The same thing happens in Arizona as she's studying ranch operations.
  • Disability Superpower: Temple's autism expresses itself in a very visual view of the world, which she channels into excellent observational skills and recall.
  • Disappeared Dad: Temple's father is only briefly mentioned; the psychologist who diagnosed Temple asks to talk to Mrs. Grandin's husband, and she merely replies that he's very busy. Also at one moment when Mrs. Grandin is on the phone, a male voice from the other room says, "Who is it?" We can only assume that it's Mr. Grandin. In Real Life, Temple's father wanted her to be institutionalized and Mrs. Grandin refused to let that happen. He divorced Mrs. Grandin over their disagreement on how to handle Temple.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The opening narration. Not only the lines spoken by Temple, where she just briefly says her name and about how she sees the world, but as she walks to the right you see that the room she's occupying is an optical illusion, which later is a plot point.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: After Temple's favorite chestnut horse dies, her science teacher tells her that while the horse may be dead, he lives on in her head and she should try to think about the better times. Temple immediately starts talking about everything she remembers about him, and then expanding it to all the chestnut horses she's seen, ever. It suddenly clicks for him that she processes the world in a way that's completely different from most people (she's heavily visual and thinks in images rather than words), and that a lot of her academic struggles come from a teaching style that just doesn't fit with the way her brain works. He then offers to become Temple's primary teacher so he can design lessons based on her learning style. It works.
  • Fashions Never Change: Temple and her mother never change their hairstyles in the course of twenty years.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Temple has a love of livestock animals, and one of her biggest goals is to have them treated more humanely.
  • Full-Name Basis: Temple always introduces herself as "Temple Grandin". Even more hilariously used with the sign on her door, her aunt wrote "TEMPLE'S ROOM" and came back later and found that Temple had added in pen, "TEMPLE'S Grandin ROOM".
  • Good Is Dumb: Averted with Temple's cattle dip and slaughterhouse designs. She sells them on the fact that not only are they more humane to the cattle, but they result in fewer accidents, stampedes, and deaths that cause harm to the livestock and slow down production.
  • Hates Being Touched: Temple, that's why she invented the hug machine.
    • Temple soon learns to deal with it a bit after being assigned a roommate who is blind (and has to rely on trusted individuals and touch).
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: The graduation scene. Temple's a horrible singer.
  • Imagine Spot: Happens a lot with Temple in two forms: Either her spots where she is trying to picture a figure of speech literally, or when she is figuring out something and we see what's going on in her head (essentially turning the entire scene into animated blueprint).
  • Informed Flaw: The first thing Temple tells us in the movie is that she's not like other people. While not a flaw to many people today, it is to everyone else in the movie due to the Values Dissonance of the time regarding autism.
  • Kick the Dog: Just when Temple's done something good, and you think everyone's going to love it, we remember that she is a woman and autistic in a different time. It happens so much in the movie that for some, it almost makes the ending seem like a shallow victory.
  • Limited Social Circle: Temple really only gains one friend in school, since she has such difficulty functioning around neurotypical people.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Near the second half of the film, Temple buys some flannel shirts with neckties and only wears those for the rest of the film.
  • Literal-Minded: Due to her autism, Temple tends to take words and phrases literally at first. For example, she misunderstands the phrase "animal husbandry" to be about marrying animals.
  • Middle Name Basis: Temple's given name is Mary. It isn't really brought up, though.
  • Never Learned to Talk: Despite her mother's best efforts, the autistic Temple never said a single word for the first four years of her life. She learned to speak later on in her life, though.
  • No Sympathy: The movie is set in a different time, and of course, (almost) no one shows Temple any sympathy.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Temple and her second roommate, who is blind, find that they have a lot in common. Some of it is more superficial (for instance, they both enjoy Star Trek), but they also both have the experience of navigating a world that isn't really designed with their needs in mind, and this allows them to empathize with each other on a deeper level.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: When Temple first discusses her newly made hug machine with the counselor his questions are phrased to imply that he suspects that the machine gives Temple sexual gratification, but Temple doesn't catch on to the implications because she is Literal-Minded. This leads into a big misunderstanding.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: All Temple had to do was cover herself in mud and put on a hat to avoid being recognized. She was even laughing and giggling in the car while making obviously fake movements.
  • Picky Eater: Temple. It's not so much that's she's picky, but she has a colon condition. The only foods she can eat without it hurting her are Jell-O and yogurt, and that's all we see her eat in the movie.
    • Although, at one point in the movie, she does claim to have eaten Rocky Mountain oysters (i.e., bull testicles). It should be noted that the real Temple has long worked at Colorado State University, and thus has undoubtedly been at least exposed to the dish.
  • Science Marches On: In-universe. The therapist in The '50s thought that Temple's autism was caused by her mother being distant. However, it is later found out that autism is genetic.
  • Shown Their Work: The real Temple Grandin was brought into the set to make sure everything was accurate.
    • Everything down to Temple's voice. If you have ever heard the real Temple Grandin, then hear Danes' impression, it's almost flawless. This was even pointed out in the At the Movies review, where one of the hosts stated that while Danes doesn't look a lot like the real Grandin, they sound almost identical despite meeting only once during the whole filming.
    • It nearly backfired when Danes met Grandin and started unconsciously imitating her voice.
  • You Didn't Ask: Until the incident mentioned under "Eureka!" Moment, no one had ever thought to ask Temple about how she processes information, and therefore they never realized that her brain works in a way that's radically different from the norm, which in turn is basically the key to understanding why she's struggling academically.