The Horse Boy: Autism, Unfortunate. So Is the Movie

There's a moment in this documentary when the father of its subject, an autistic child named Rowan, explains his son's intrinsic understanding of nature by showing how he has organized his animal toys by species. The dad marvels that Rowan has grouped biologically close rhinos and pigs in the same box—while ignoring the ostrich figurine that's also in there. This selective filtering of information is typical of the film, a quest toward an inevitable inspirational destination, continuing the recent trend of using precious theater space as dumping grounds for a-cinematic PBS also-rans. Mom and Dad take 6-year-old Rowan, whose jagged tantrums are best relaxed by contact with horses, on a riding tour of Outer Mongolia, to consult tribal shamans in the hope of untangling his mental blocks. It's fun to imagine how The Horse Boy's intended audience, the nontraditional-therapy crowd, would react to this film if the parents had taken Rowan to exorcists in papal Rome—just imagine a priest bringing up "haunted wombs"!—but the Third World Otherness works wonders. The Horse Boy may excuse itself as a "raising-awareness" tract on autism, but the exotic travelogue isn't a practicable care option for most cases, and it certainly isn't worthy cinema.

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