How far would you travel for someone you love?
Rupert Isaacson, a writer and former horse trainer, and his wife Kristin Neff, a psychology professor, seem like a picture-perfect couple with both possessing bohemian-style good looks and charming personalities. To see them together, they seem obviously and deeply in love. They have traveled around the world, both studying and serving others.
They are the ideal couple.
The birth of their first son, Rowan, seemingly broadened their circle of love in beautiful and delightful ways...at least until the young boy was two-years-old and started to display increasingly agitated, aggressive and tantum-like behaviors for hours on end.
Rowan has Autism.
"The Horse Boy," a documentary from first-time filmmaker Michel Orion Scott, is not about Rowan's autism or any perception of his "disability," though the entire film addresses the subject honestly, uncomfortably and, at times, rather heartbreakingly.
Instead, 'The Horse Boy" is about the journey that Rupert and Kristin undertook on the offbeat shot that it might help their child for whom medications, therapies and other interventions were not working.
"The Horse Boy," at least for Rupert and Kristin, answers the question "How far would you travel for someone you love?"
In the case of Rupert and Kristin, the answer is Mongolia.
When Rowan was four-years-old, Rupert stumbled across a rather amazing discovery...that Rowan seemed to be mysteriously consoled when he encountered horses. Rupert, who'd once been a horse trainer, had avoided taking his son around horses fearing quite the opposite would be the truth. Yet, one day Rowan encounters a neighbor's horse, a majestic beauty named "Betsy" who seems to almost mystically tune into Rowan and just as mystically Rowan's tantrum quickly ends. It would soon be discovered that Rowan had a deep, tender affinity for animals and it would be this affinity that would leave the family on the adventure of a lifetime, to Outer Mongolia by horseback and through a variety of rituals by that nation's shaman's, said to be among the most enlightened healers in the entire world.
What kind of parents would take a tantrum-prone, hyper-sensitive and perpetually incontinent young boy in a horseback journey through the hills, mountains, drylands and isolation of a land that still feels remarkably ancient?
Rupert and Kristin, indeed, aren't just any parents.
They are real, quite real. One of the most powerful scenes in "The Horse Boy" comes when Rupert reaches the realization that too much of their journey has been about his own agenda rather than about the needs of his son. With refreshing honesty and authenticity, both Kristin and Rupert love their son unabashedly yet also hope against hope for a decrease in the daily symptoms of his rather profound autism, symptoms such as being practically non-verbal, non-interactive, devoid of self-care skills and those godawful, seemingly endless tantrums.
Beautifully and naturally photographed by director Michel Orion Scott, "The Horse Boy" intimately and with much love captures the inter-workings of a family living a life they never expected with love, respect, dignity and dedication to one another. Just as beautifully, Scott captures the wonder of the people of Mongolia, whose nearly unfathomable embrace of this family and this child goes beyond touching towards transcendence.
Woven into the fabric of "The Horse Boy," Scott also includes interviews with some of the leading voices on autism such as Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, Scott nicely balances fact with emotion, hardcore reality with enchanted possibilities.
The original score from Lili Haydn and Kim Carroll complements the film nicely, though one couldn't help but wish for the incorporation of pieces of native music to companion the family's experiences once inside Mongolia.
Having been an official selection at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, "The Horse Boy" is the first feature documentary to be placed as one of the "event" films during Indiana's Heartland Film Festival and was the festival's Closing Night Film during the October 2009 festival.
"The Horse Boy" is scheduled for a limited nationwide release by Zeitgeist Films beginning December 11, 2009. During a year when Michael Moore seems almost pre-destined for yet another Oscar nomination for a sub-par documentary achievement, "The Horse Boy" is a wondrous example of the magic, beauty, intelligence and inspiration that can be found in a documentary.
A story of disability?
Not a chance.
"The Horse Boy" is about two parents going farther than one would ever imagine to heal the son that they love.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic