Hello! This is part two of my Autism in film blogs; if you want to read part one, head over here:
A lot of the time I can get frustrated with how stories about autism are presented in film (and other mediums too). They often build up to what I call the break-through moment. This is the point in the life of someone with severe ASD where their parents and/or carers, who have tried everything they can to discover a way to communicate, break through the invisible communication barrier. This of course leads on to the person gaining other skills such as socialising, keeping down a job and living independently.
It's great that there are these types of stories out there and they should be celebrated but not to the cost of telling other stories of ASD. Often the way these break-through stories are told suggest that if you try hard enough you will find a way to communicate and if you can't find a way then you as a parent are a failure, that you aren't trying hard enough, that you don't love enough. This is not true. My parents are not failures, they are always trying to find new ways to help Rob lead a happy, fulfilled life and they love him very much.
Movie: Life Animated (2016)
A documentary about a young man (Owen Suskind) with autism.
Tagline: His imagination unlocked an amazing new world.
Owen Suskind is a young man with autism who is currently learning about living independently. The documentary takes you through his past and explains how Owen, who did not speak for most of his childhood, learned how to communicate with others and learned to overcome some of the challenges of autism.
I went to see this movie at the cinema on the only day it was showing that I was able to attend. I was feeling pretty lousy about my art and worrying about not getting enough done on my book so I wasn't in the best frame of mind for a close-to-the-bone documentary. I knew the story of Owen Suskind a little from the Radiolab episode Jucivose, so I knew that I was in for some tear jerking. (I highly recommend the Radiolab episode and actually enjoyed it a little more than the documentary.)
What I liked about the documentary was that it also interviewed Owen's brother, Walt. You don't always get to hear from the siblings and I sometimes I feel so desperate to know that I'm not the only one out there and that it's okay to feel the way I do about Rob.
I enjoyed the film - I still found it hard to watch when it came to the break-through moment, but it didn't make me feel like a failure. I was just jealous. I wish I could talk to Rob, have a conversation, find out how he's feeling. I know that's not going to happen but that doesn't stop me talking to Rob.
(Note: The Owen in this film is not Owen my boyfriend. Owen (my boyfriend) wanted me to make this very clear to you.)
How much did I cry while watching: 5 out of 5 teardrops.
Movie: The Black Balloon (2008)
A film about growing up with a sibling with severe autism.
Tagline: Normal is relative.
The Black Balloon is about two brothers, Thomas and Charlie. Thomas is a neurotypical teen and Charlie is a teen with autism. Thomas is just trying to get along at his new school, learn to drive and maybe get a girlfriend.
The movie covers a lot of situations that I too have experienced. Confronting other kids at school about people with disabilities; the bus that would take Rob to his school (which was a special school); watching Mum bath my brother; Rob having a meltdown; forgetting to lock the door; and labelling the images on the screen, amongst others. As the film was also Australian, these scenes really hit home for me and I felt like I finally had something I could point to and go, "This! This is what it's like!"
I've seen this movie many times now with groups of people and alone but every time I watch it, it really hits home how good this film is and how important it was for me to have. What I really liked about viewing this movie with lots of different groups is seeing the different reactions from people. The very first time I saw the film was at an Autism SA fundraiser movie night, so pretty much everyone that was watching had some exposure to someone with autism. This meant that whenever someone didn't lock something or just let Charlie look through someone's bag the whole room would audibly gasp before the reveal of Charlie running out the front door or finding something he shouldn't. Whereas when watching the film with people who had no experience of autism, they would of course gasp after the reveal (when you were supposed to).
The Black Balloon is my very favourite film about autism (of the ones I've watched) as it most closely represents what it was like growing up with my brother and the feelings I had as a sibling. (Although obviously it was not exactly the same experience that I had.)
How much did I cry while watching: 3.5 out of 5 teardrops (I cried a bit during the film but more importantly, I laughed during the film. Autism can be hard to live with but it can also be fun and silly. This is something that I really want to highlight in my book).
I'm not sure yet if there will be a part 3 of my series about autism in film. I'll just leave it at two for now. I want to focus on telling my story about autism and family. I want my voice to come through loud and clear and not get confused by other people's stories or views.
Hope you are having an A+ week!