x + y – a real portrayal of autism on film? w/video

Screenshot taken from the official move trailer

Screenshot taken from the official move trailer

The movie x + y went on general release, March 13. The film tells the story of 17-year-old Nathan Ellis [played by Asa Butterfield] who has Asperger’s syndrome and who is a maths genius. The story follows Ellis as he embarks on a maths tournament, and falls in love with a young Chinese girl. The film, although fictional, is based on Daniel Lightwing‘s  life as a young boy growing up on the autistic spectrum.

Below is a trailer for the film .

The Yorkshire Post, state that Daniel, who is originally from Warthill, near York, graduated in maths and oriental studies from Trinity College, Cambridge University, and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

Morgan Matthews who directed the film, found out about Daniel while making the documentary, Beautiful Young Minds. This followed Daniel as he embarked on the International Maths Olympiad.

Professor Sylvia Johnson, trustee at the National Autistic Society (NAS), who has an adult son with Asperger’s syndrome said about the film:
 “What came across very well was how someone who is very able on the autism spectrum can cope with these very abstract concepts but struggles on a day-to-day basis with some of the more social situations. My son said afterwards to Daniel’s mother Carolyn ‘I really felt for him for some of the things, I was squirming thinking it was really awful for him’.”

However she also states that the film represents one end of the spectrum. She adds that many individuals with autism need 24 hour care and have no language, while others have difficulty coping with their environment.

So are films like this one helpful for the autism community?

Do they depict what autism is and how it can affect a particular individual? Well, as Professor Sylvia Johnson states, this film tells of how life is for one young man on one particular end of the spectrum. But as we all know, autism is different for every individual. As the saying goes, when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.

Leslie Felperin writing in the Guardian, asks the important question of whether the film misrepresents or empowers those individuals on the autism spectrum? Th answer given is both yes and no. The film for starters has been linked to the likes of Rain Man and the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime purely because of its savant theme. Is this a good thing?

Director Morgan Matthews in one interview stated that he understands why “people think that by representing everyone on the autistic spectrum as gifted geniuses is … misrepresenting the community.”‘

However Felperin in the thought provoking article, goes on to add that the film ‘does reflect the experience of one, mega-mathematically minded faction of that whole. Moreover, it does so with much more nuance, empathy and honesty than many previous film versions have done.’

So it appears that we have once more, a film about an especially gifted young man who just happens to be on the autistic spectrum. Is this a bad thing? I think not. Does it represent autism on film? Well, that is a difficult question to answer. This is one story among thousands. Film can only tell one story, one perspective, so the whole spectrum of autism can never be truly portrayed in the telling of one specific story.  But a more important question to ask is, should there be more films about individuals with autism who are on the other end of the spectrum? The answer is yes. It is time that they too have a voice.