As Secretariat opened in theaters this week to rave reviews, an HBO films television production, Temple Grandin made it to my TV screen on DVD. While both are true and amazing stories of women making great achievements against seemingly insurmountable odds and both involve animals, the similarities stop there.
Briefly, Secretariat recounts the tale of Penny Chenery Tweedy, the wife and mother of four who intervened after her mother’s death and her father’s infirmity to save the family thoroughbred racing & horse breeding business. The famed Big Red, aka Secretariat, lets Penny take the story’s lead, but drives the action in the racing sequences and with his uncanny personality, unmatched speed, and incomparable power on the track.
There were many fine moments in Secretariat, but what was unsettling was watching as Penny is understandably torn between the natural instinct to see her children raised well and her strong drive to follow in her father’s footsteps, and the choices she makes; I guess there is always a conflict between career and family. Even a man such as myself is prone to that, and understands. Still, I should reflect on this periodically, for myself, as I have erred in this way.
Fine performances by the talented Diane Lane as Penny Tweedy, John Malkovich as funny and eccentric trainer Lucien Lauren, Margo Martindale as the supportive Miss Ham, Nelsan Ellis as Secretariat’s kind groom, with Eddie Sweat, and also featuring Otto Thorwart as Secretariat’s die-hard jockey Ron Turcotte. The movie is also enlivened by an inspirational soundtrack and a stunning finish.
Next, in Temple Grandin, we meet a young, college bound woman who struggles with autism. The film opens in the 1960’s with Temple (well-played Claire Danes) staying with her aunt Ann (Catherine O’Hara) and getting ready to go to college. Temple loves animals because they are easier for her to relate to than people. She is highly sensitive to sensory input, and sees things in purely mathematical terms. Her insights into engineering and design are nothing short of genius.
We follow her life through college to graduate school where she decides to write about cattle behavior and design new forms of cattle chutes. She encounters mockery, scorn, and ridicule as she is misunderstood, but at each turn, there is someone to help and encourage her and she never gives up.
Watch as her mother Eustacia (Julia Ormond) fights to keep her from being institutionalized, her science teacher Dr. Carlock (veteran David Strathairn), encourages her to grow, and her college roommate, Alice (Melissa Farman), “hears” Temple through her blindness when most of the dorm mates reject her. Temple achieves amazing things and causes us to reconsider our limitless potential.
While she does break some social mores, she soundly crushes much of the stigma around certain mental issues. Go Temple! Highest rating.