The day-to-day rituals of parents with autistic children might be mistaken for shamanic remedies. One scene of The Horse Boy captures the parents of 5-year-old Rowan grinding vitamins and herpes medication with a mortar and pestle to create a therapeutic cocktail for their autistic son. The family's days are plagued with Rowan's incessant tantrums and incontinence; he isn't toilet trained. Though journalist and human rights activist Rupert Isaacson, Rowan's father and the film's narrator, says the documentary is the story of a family that "did something crazy," traveling to Mongolia to seek shamanistic healing for Rowan doesn't seem crazy at all. For a family living with autism, difficult journeys are nothing new. "I've had harder rides to the grocery store," Rupert says in a later scene.
Rowan, often incoherent and unruly, becomes calm and able to speak when he rides the family horse with his father. This revelation prompts Rupert to take his family to Mongolia, where horses are valued as much as shamans, to seek healing. The trip forces the family to confront many questions. Are they doing what's best for their son? If Rowan isn't healed, how will he function in society as an adult? The most immediate concern seems to be if Rowan will ride a horse by himself — a perceived route to freedom for the boy and his family. During the journey, Rowan finds comfort among the shamans, whose mental idiosyncrasies are considered in Mongolian culture to be special, not dysfunctional.
Some audiences may dismiss the shamans' transformative effects on the boy as New Age propaganda or products of clever editing. But the true power on display comes from seeing autism as diversity, not as disease. The film also includes interviews with neuroscientists, doctors and Temple Grandin, an autistic adult who earned a doctorate and designs slaughterhouses. Free admission. &mdashLauren LaBorde
THE HORSE BOY (NR)
7:30 p.m. Saturday
Antenna Gallery, 3161 Burgundy St., 957-4255; www.antennagallery.org