Following up on the last post on Autism, one important way to get some glimpses, or some partial sense, of what it can be to living with autism, are movies. If you ask the vast majority of people whether they have every seen a movie on autism, I suspect they will say they’ve seen Rain Man. I haven’t seen this movie for many years, so shouldn’t talk about it in detail, but what I can say is that it so much skewed my understanding of autism that I wonder whether it may have been better if I had not seen this movie at all. I have, by now, met many people with autism, but not a single one that resembles Rain Man. Yet it does point to a much more general issue, which is that given how radically different people with autism can be, one single portrait of a person with autism will inevitably lead to a very limited understanding of what autism is. But except if one were to make a movie on an organization (a school, or a company) that has many members who have autism, I don’t see a way around this problem.
So, here are two other movies I’ve seen recently, that I’d like to mention for different reasons.
First, there is Ben X, which is a movie about a teenage boy, called Ben, who has Asperger’s, and who is heavily bullied at school (he goes to a regular school, not to a school specialized for pupils with autism). What I really liked about it, is that the framing often switches between his standpoint (and hence how he experiences the world, that is: fragmented, overwhelming, to some extent incomprehensible), and the world of those around him (his mother, his friends, his teachers, the boys who bully him). I used this movie last December in my class on ‘Film and Philosophy’. I first watched it twice at home and then, at university, on a bigger screen. This is a movie to be seen on a bigger screen, if one possible can, precisely for the parts where the perspective of Ben is taken. On the critical side, some would say that Ben X is cinematographically a B-movie; still I found this well worth watching.
The other movie I recently discovered is a classical movie from 1963, A Child is Waiting. According to the official plot this movie is about a teacher in an institution for mentally disabled children, who becomes very focused on and involved with one child. I can’t recall whether he was labeled as having autism, but many of his behaviors are very much in line with it. Personally, what I found much more interesting than the issues the teacher has, are the tensions which arose between the parents when they figured out their child had problems, and their inability to accept him as he is; and, a powerful portraying of the feelings of the boy, who needs his parents, yet they never visit him. It was interesting to get a 1963-perspective on autism, when the ideas and practices on the treatment and education of mentally disabled kids were so different, and when there was clearly still much stigma attached to having a child with autism.
One movie I’m curious about is Loving Lampposts, but I only discovered it this week, and it will take a while before it crosses the Atlantic and I can watch it. Which movies on autism do you recommend?
ps: I’ll be back with some more posts on autism after next week – I am facing some deadlines that need to be tackled first.