A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
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What's the story?
After exhausting traditional medicine's approach to their son's severe autism, parents Rupert and Kristin Isaacson undertake an epic journey to Mongolia in hopes of finding a more spiritually minded treatment. During their travels, they meet with several shamans who offer explanations and conduct rituals for their son's condition. Eventually, they travel several days on horseback to meet with a very special healer. Throughout the trip, the Isaacsons learn valuable lessons about themselves and their son, and see him make incremental but significant progress. When he's around animals -- especially horses -- he also does well. The couple eventually found an theraputic organization that brings kids -- both autistic and typical -- together with horses. Experts on autism, including Temple Grandin, appear in interview segments to offer insight into the experience of living with autism.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about disabilities and differences. How do you think the media usually handles disability and difference? Does it rely on stereotypes? Does this film do things differently?
Do you know anyone with autism or any other disabilities? Has this film changed your perspective? Did you learn anything from the movie?