Starring: Rupert Isaacson, Kristen Neff, Rowan Isaacson
Directed by: Michel O. Scott (debut)
Never short on hopeful sentiment, “The Horse Boy” is an intimate portrait of a father and mother who would literally walk to the far reaches of the earth if it meant their son’s life would benefit from it.
When Rupert and Kristen’s son Rowan is diagnosed with autism, they have no idea how much their lives will change. Slowly, Rowan fades away into his own world where social interaction is impossible. The only real emotions four-year-old Rowan expresses to his parents are in the multiple temper tantrums he throws each day. Some of them last for hours.
Emotionally and physically drained, Rupert and Kristen hold their collective breath when there seems to be a breakthrough in their son’s behavior. When Rowan is placed onto a horse, he becomes calm and starts to converse with his parents. The progress with Rowan spurs his father and mother to plan an impromptu trip to Mongolia where they will ride on horseback to various shamans across the Asian country in hopes that a combination of their mysterious powers and the horses will cure Rowan of his autism.
Set on a beautiful Mongolian landscape, “The Horse Boy” never defines autism nor does it offer up to much of information about the complex disorder. First-time director Michel O. Scott does get professional perspectives from doctors and psychologists, but the reason for Rowan’s reactions are never fully understood. It’s a realistic choice by Scott not to pretend he can find all the answers.
While the film is titled “The Horse Boy,” it’s less about the healing capability of horses as much as it is about a family’s journey in both mind and spirit and the willingness of Rupert and Kristen to do anything for their child. During one healing ritual, the two are asked to kneel on the ground and refrain from screaming as the shamans whip them with rope across their bodies.
Whether you believe in miracles or not, “The Horse Boy,” is a tender love story from a parent to a child. At one point, Rupert comments that his son has found his “adventurer’s heart.” While you may not be able to understand Rowen on any level (unless you are a parent of an autistic child yourself), it’s that part of him that makes the documentary exceptionally sincere despite its small stature.
I heard an interview with the family on TPR the other morning. The mom said she didn’t like riding horses, much less across Mongolia. Looking forward to watching the film.