Over the weekend, my wife and I saw two dramas in one day that featured a character with autism – “Snow cake” and “Please stand by.” Both were entertaining and educational and we each walked away feeling good vibes about the human spirit. In recent years, I wrote a post about a third, even more moving movie about an autistic character, the true story of “Temple Grandin” a Ph.D who overcame and used her autism to be successful.
“Snow cake” stars Sigourney Weaver, as an adult woman with autism named Linda, who was living with her grown, good hearted and care-free daughter Vivienne (played by Emily Hampshire) who was killed in a car accident early on in the movie. Alan Rickman plays Alex the driver of the car who was compelled to pick up Vivienne as she always finds a ride with the loneliest looking soul in a roadside cafe. While Alex did not cause the accident, he feels responsible to get the odd gifts Vivienne bought along the way to her mother. The movie is largely about Linda and Alex’ interesting interactions and mutual growth and friendship. Linda will not let Alex leave, but he has to stay there by her OCD like rules. He does so and plans a perfect send-off funeral for Vivienne, negotiating with Linda as to what to do. Carrie Ann Moss plays an important role as a neighbor.
“Please stand by” is about an autistic young woman named Wendy, starring Dakota Fanning who loves Star Trek. So, much that she has written a Star Trek screen play for a contest which she feels she must deliver in person to meet the deadline. From the parts of the screen play read, she has a good grasp of the characters and feelings (and we learn why she has an affinity for the character Spock). Her solo road trip unnerves her sister Audrey, played by Alice Eve, and her therapist Scottie, played by Toni Collette, who try to track her down. Unfortunately, she sees the worst in some folks who take advantage of her and the best in others. Patton Oswalt, plays an important cameo as a cop who also loves Star Trek and speaks Klingon (if you have to ask….). And, Marla Gibbs (from the old TV show “The Jeffersons”) plays a woman of conscience who shames a clerk into not cheating Wendy.
“Temple Grandin” stars Claire Danes as a very bright and inquisitive autistic young woman who becomes a scientist, inventor and speaker. Two key roles in her life are played by Julia Ormond as her mother and David Strathairn as a science professor in college. Grandin invents a device to calm her by giving her a controlled hug. She notes kids with autism feel a chaotic life and this controlled hugging is soothing. She also invents a new manner in which cattle can calmly be led treating them with as much dignity as possible given what is about to happen to them. If you want to read more about this movie, a link is below. If you do watch, make sure you have some tissue, especially for the scene about the autism conference for parents.
These are three examples of movies that can both entertain and illuminate. Doing our best to walk in the shoes of those with autism makes us more empathetic and aware.