Director-cinematographer Michel Orion Scott tracks an autistic Texas boy to Outer Mongolia: his open-minded parents wonder if shamans on the steppes might heal their Rowan. Or at least get him to stop pooping his pants. “The Horse Boy” is narrated by Rowan’s long-haired dad Rupert, a former horse trainer turned advocate for indigenous peoples’ land rights. Rowan’s mom Kristin is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas. “Self-compassion” is her research specialty. Talking heads include the director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University; an anthropologist who penned “Unstrange Minds” about his autistic daughter (his grandfather founded the University of Chicago’s psychiatry department) and Dr. Temple Grandin, the autistic author of “Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior.” “The Horse Boy” documents the hell Rowan endures with his endless tantrums. It’s hell too for his helpless parents. But a horse calms him down. This inspires a 2007 trip to seek out traditional healers among reindeer herders. One divines a negative energy emanating from Kristin’s late, mentally ill grandmother. This is a home video of a family traveling far for therapy on a hunch. You cannot help but cheer, if not chant, for a sunny outcome. Yet I have never seen a documentary or drama shot in Mongolia that offered such overcast skies and lackluster vistas. 93m. (Bill Stamets)
“The Horse Boy” opens Friday at the Music Box.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.