A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
This film shows kids what it's like to live with someone with autism and familiarizes them with the condition's challenges. Themes include: stepping outside one's comfort zone; taking risks; the importance of tolerance and love; and the value of animals.
Positive Role Models
These parents will do anything to help their child with autism, including travel to an unfamiliar country to undergo unusual treatment. Though they question their decision, especially when the process is difficult, they persevere, and ultimately see results and learn to love their son for who he is. The parents eventually go on to found The Horse Boy Foundation, which makes horses and nature available to other children, autistic and typical, who might otherwise not have access to them.
Violence & Scariness
Adults are whipped by a shaman and told they can't scream or make any sounds. During a breakfast, the choices are the lung, liver, and heart of an animal. Animal carcasses are visible in one scene.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
The mother is told that she has to wash the area where her son came out. When she does this, she faces away from the camera and her behind is blurred.
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The father has a tendency to swear whenever his son -- who isn't toilet-trained -- has an accident. He says "Jesus Christ" a couple of times, "butt-f--ker," "f--ked up," "motherf----r of a poo," "and s--ting his pants" to express his frustration.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Shaman smokes cigarette.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this no-holds barred documentary, which shows what life is like for a boy who has autism, includes some heavy topics best for adults and mature teens. The movie includes lots of discussion about the parents' concerns and frustrations in dealing with their autistic child, which younger kids won't relate to and may find upsetting. One scene includes a shaman whipping the parents as part of the healing process, and another shows the mother washing her vagina (which is blurred) as part of the ritual. A decent portion of the film is devoted to the child's inability to poop on the potty, and his father's intense reactions, including strings of curses ("motherf---ker," "s--t," and "Jesus Christ" as an exclamation). By letting viewers into their lives, the family helps expand understanding of autism, culture, nature, animals, and what it means to heal. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Based on an acclaimed book by Rupert Isaacson about his family's voyage to Mongolia, THE HORSE BOY is an honest depiction of a family who reaches a breaking point, yet keeps going. The Isaacsons let the cameras into their lives with unflinching honesty, revealing their raw emotions throughout their struggles and joys as they watch their son emerge from his shell through his relationship with animals. Throughout it all, the parents' love for their child and each other shines through.
Though the filmmaking isn't top-notch, with some awkward transitions, the combination of a compelling personal story and some expert commentary about autism creates a powerful documentary about a subject most people know little about. Because they've let you into their lives, you can't help but root for this disjointed family to come together. Suspense builds throughout the journey: Will Rowan get better? The poignant scenes at the end will bring tears to your eyes.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.