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Elisabeth Bartlett is blogging the festival scene from Cannes to Los Angeles.
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Can Shamans Cure Autistic Boy? 'The Horse Boy' Asks and Answers


I am opened to a new world after seeing Michel Orion Scott's The Horse Boy- currently playing at the Mill Valley Film Festival.  Thus far in my life I have not been closely touched by autism, and I didn't know much about it previous to watching.  Doctors' interviews sprinkled throughout the movie help give an insight into understanding the cryptic disease.  

 The Horse Boy tells the true story of the Isaacson family.  The film begins four years after Mother Kristin and father Rupert have given birth to an autistic son- Rowan.  Photos from the past show us a glimpse into the couple's life before their son's birth.  "The world had once been our oyster; now it had narrowed down to just getting through the next day."  

The camera takes us inside the Isaacson household and we feel stressed and emotional watching Rowan tantrum for what appears to be no specific reason.  Close-ups show his screaming and crying and rambling, and his parents are not able to understand why he's crying, what he wants, if he's in pain, or what's happening in his brain.  What's worse is that Rowan is unreachable, unable to console.  His parents, and we as the viewer, feel worthless watching him terrorize.

 One day he runs away, and his father finds him with the neighbor's horse.  Rowan is relaxed, fascinated by the horse.  His father lays him on the horse's back and Rowan falls into a deep relaxation, smiling and happy.  One doctor tells us that often autism means that the brain is flooded with lots of detail that the rest of us miss.  This means very narrow interests in specific topics.  For Rowan it seems this is with animals (Later in the movie we see Rowan arrange his animal figurines into different bins based on their origin- all plains animals together, for example- Rowan is doing this at age 4).  Rupert, never having seen his son like this, is amazed.  He says that there was an obvious line of connection between his son and the horse.  And now he has a realization: What if autism is not an inhibitor, but a "gateway to adventure?"   

 Rupert has an idea: as a writer and advocate for tribal people, he has spent a lot of time around cultures who believe in Shamanism.  He has seen numerous people with all sorts of issues healed by Shamans.  Many tribal people use a Shaman- just one person- for all of their problems: be it health, spiritual, or political.  He does research and finds that Mongolia is the place where horse-back riding originated and also where Shamanism is the official religion.  What if they could take Rowan to Mongolia and venture throughout the country on horse-back, visiting Shamans to cure his terror?  Though hesitant to this seemingly preposterous idea at first, but desperate for something to hope for, wife Kristin agrees.

 They find a guide and set out on their journey to Mongolia.  Word is spread about the young boy coming to be healed and Shamans come from all over the country for the healing in what is said to be the largest gathering of Shamans since the end of communism.   Will the mix of Shamans and horses be able to cure their son of his horrid tantrums?

What ensues is an exciting journey through lush green, mountainous Mongolia between Shamans' camps.  One group of Shamans agree that Kristin has a deceased mentally ill relative who is taunting Rowan.  Indeed, her grandmother was manic depressive.  The Shamans also agree that a black energy had entered the womb during her pregnancy.  

The journey concludes with a much anticipated visit to the reindeer people deep in the mountains- where a very wise Shaman lives and where Reindeer riding originated long before horseback.  Will the wise Shaman be able to help?  it is their last hope.  See this movie, maybe tonight or tomorrow night at the Mill Valley Film Festival, to find out.

One interesting aspect of autism that the movie shows is that we don't want to rid the world of autism- intense special interests make for amazingly skilled humans that add to life.  This is not the cure the Isaacsons seek- it is only to cure the negative aspects of autism. 


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About Elisabeth

Bartlett Elisabeth
Blogging about the festival scene from Los Angeles

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