In the early 2000s, a severely autistic Japanese boy call Naoki Higashida wrote a book about what it was like to live with his condition. It achieved success in Japan but found widespread global acclaim roughly a decade later when the author David Mitchell and his wife, parents to an autistic son, translated it into English. The book was hailed as that thing most desired by parents of autistic children - a chance to understand what their kids were going through without the barrier of miscommunication. Indeed, the very format of the book fed a hunger to understand - answering discreet questions often posed to kids with autism - one of which is "why I jump".
Jerry Rothwell's film adaptation of the book is a not a biopic or an attempt to take each question posed but rather an illustration of the book's themes and concerns as well as its appeal. Rothwell has a framing device where a young autistic Japanese child explores the world, coupled with a voiceover reading extracts of the book. But this is not so much Higashida's story, or David Mitchell's child's story, but the story of a representative group of five children and their parents. So we see a white English boy who loves the music that electrical wires make - an Indian girl who draws the most incredible pictures of urban life - a wonderful pair of American friends, one black, one white, who have found deep communion with each other - and a young girl in Sierra Leone whose parents founded a school for her in a society that thinks autism is a kind of curse.
A common thread in these stories is that the children are - despite outward differences to the "neurotypical" - ordinary! - they aren't weird time travellers who just want to be alone, or whatever other freakish labels have been applied to autistic kids over the years. Rather, they are intelligent, creative, articulate people who are struggling with sensory extremes and with communication. The joy is in seeing the American pair find a way to communicate with letter-boards that sees the most nuanced and profound ideas expressed despite apparently very limited ability to vocalise thought. The second common thread was just how wonderful the parents were and how moving their stories. The frustration at not being able to communicate - the wonder at the ways in which their kids have tried to express themselves and their creativity despite their autism - and the sacrifices they make to ensure them a place in this world - are all deeply admirable.
Kudos too, to director Jerry Rothwell, for going beyond these fascinating and insightful family studies to try to actually give "neurotypical" viewers a sense of what it might be like to be autistic with innovative visual and aural techniques. The result is a film that is often beautiful to watch (see the boy playing amidst the aqueducts at the end) - as well as being full of beautiful people.
THE REASON I JUMP has a running time of 82 minutes. The film played Sundance 2020 where it won the Audience Award - World Cinema. It does not yet have a commercial release date.
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