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"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?
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 fact, 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.
- Backstory: 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.
- Big Lipped Alligator Moment: Temple's imagine spots.
- Unusually, though, they're sort of meant to be taken that way, since we're seeing how the world looks to an autistic person. To Temple, figures of speech that sound perfectly normal to everyone else tend to come off as Big Lipped Alligator Moments, since the autistic mind wants to interpret them literally.
- 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.
- Butt Monkey: Temple in school, but more notably at the ranch.
- Dawson Casting: Danes plays Temple from high school to college. They did have a child actor to play Temple when she was a baby, but there's only two scenes shown of that (and even then the girl supposed to be playing 4 year old Temple looks 8.)
- 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.)
- 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 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 it may be dead, but it lives on in her head. Temple immediately starts talking about all the chestnut horses she's seen, ever. Her teacher realizes that for her, autism expresses itself by making her a heavily visual learner, which explains her abysmal French and math grades.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a movie about Temple Grandin.
- Fashions Never Change: Temple and her mother never change their hairstyles in the course of twenty years.
- 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".
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: While they never outright say it, the reason Temple gets her hug machine taken away is that the school faculty thinks she's using it for sexual reasons.
- You can actually see the moment when her therapist comes to this conclusion. He asks Temple that, despite not liking people touching her, if she feels okay when she touches herself. Temple doesn't get what he means, and while he's looking away she grabs her own arm to see if it bothers her. She tells him no, she feels fine when she touches herself, and the machine helps.
- Hates Being Touched: Temple, that's why she invented the hug machine.
- 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.
- No Fourth Wall: The opening.
- No Sympathy: The movie is set in a different time, and of course, (almost) no one shows Temple any sympathy.
- Oblivious to Love: Temple isn't married and has no children because she doesn't want to.
- 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.
- Paranoia Gambit
- Picky Eater: Temple. It's not so much that's shes '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.
- The Rainman: Temple
- Science Marches On: In-universe. The therapist in The Fifties 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.
- Shout-Out: WULD YOU LIEK FOR MEH TO OHPEN DAH GAEETTT???
- The Stoic: Pointed out by her aunt near the beginning.
- Yank the Dog's Chain