Michel Orion Scott’s The Horse Boy is a documentary about a family dealing with the pain and turmoil which Autism causes. The approach of the film is focused; while there are some standard, single shot interviews on the history, nature and behavior of the illness interspersed throughout the picture, we stick closely by the sides of the family as they encounter yet another journey in their lives. The ever-hopeful father tells us the story, almost as if he were writing in a diary which unbeknownst to him, the entire world could read. What’s captivating about this film is not so much what happens at the end, as what happens throughout as mom and dad almost force their Autistic son, Rowan on a trek across the rainy plains of Mongolia in the company of a group of Shaman.
So why Mongolia? Well, the magic of editing and the power of the montage will show us that Rowan, suffering from this neurological disorder, is often times unable to cope with the pain in his head and takes to throwing tantrums and/or uncontrollably (and inconsolably) crying and screaming. One day though, Rowan escapes the grip of his parents during a fit and runs onto the neighbor’s property, right up to his horse, and stops screaming. It’s at this moment that Rowan’s parents realize there is something very special about their little boy, and it’s got nothing to do with his special needs.
Rowan’s father begins to research the meaning behind this encounter and the doc also gives us the thoughts of a few interviewed experts on neurology, psychology and even some from an Autistic college professor. They all generally say the same thing: Autism is in many ways still a mystery. One thing that is apparent is the ability of the Autistic person to focus on one thing until they are exceptional at it, but have blocked out everything else in their life as a result.
Anyway, the research that Rowan’s father comes up with is something different. He wonders why the strong, undeniable connection to the animal is there. Rowan becomes pacified instantly when near the horse and it seems the horse is just as comfortable with Rowan, letting the four-year old boy literally crawl all over him without flinching. Rowan’s father discovers the origin of the domesticated horse traces back to Mongolia. The father previously worked in countries like India (where he met Rowan’s mother), and also is very interested in the belief of spiritual characteristics of a culture.
Rowan’s father takes the chance, puts the wife and kid on a plane; they fly into Mongolia and on day-one head out to the plains where they are scheduled to meet up with several Shaman. At this point, the journey begins for the family (and us, the viewer). Many of the Shaman will leave, but one (also along with his child) stays and accompanies the family on their quest for Rowan’s healing. He stays, primarily because Rowan, after the first bout of spiritual and ritualistic hoo-ha, has found some sort of a connection with the Shaman’s boy as well. He finally seems to be interacting with some one other than a horse.
Eventually, after much trial, visiting a number of places, bathing in healing waters, a few days in a van, and two days on horseback; the family reaches their final destination near the tip of Mongolia where a very small tribe of people live with domesticated reindeer. This is where I’ll refrain from telling you anymore of the story, but what happens in this far-away place is truly amazing – not miraculous by any means – but simply… inspiring.
For more details on the film check out the website HORSEBOYMOVIE.COM.