The Reason I Jump
In Japan, a 13 year-old non-verbal autistic boy, Naoki Higashida, published a book to help neurotypical people understand how his brain works. It was translated into English by ‘Cloud Atlas’ novelist David Mitchell, who has a son with autism and appears here, and directed by Jerry Rothwell (“Sour Grapes”), who uses a young actor as a stand-in for Naoki in lyrical passages which connect the stories of five other non-verbal autistics in “The Reason I Jump.”
Laura's Review: B
Rothwell’s chosen his subjects well, his global inclusion reflecting not only the lack of uniformity in the condition, but in its understanding and acceptance in different parts of the world. Fortunately, each of the children we get to know here have loving and supportive parents, all of whom enjoyed a deeper communion with their kids after having read Higashida’s book.
In India, Amrit comes home from school and draws the events of her day, her mother, once concerned that she was being bullied, now championing her very impressive artwork. In England, the film’s producers exhibit tremendous patience with their son Joss, whose inability to differentiate the past from the present leads to many meltdowns (these rages are also commonly attributed to the frustration of being unable to express oneself). He is calmed by obsessive repetition, something common to all, echoing Higashida’s book title with his love of trampolining. In the U.S. Ben and Emma have been friends since childhood, their respective mothers coming up to speed later in their lives (Ben’s mother Berthra notes how they ‘used to put words in their mouths,’ deducing what they were feeling, usually incorrectly). These two Americans demonstrate the success of the letterboard in allowing nonverbals to communicate and it can be surprising just what they are thinking (at one point, Ben, who accompanies every jab at a letter by saying ‘Ess,’ types out that his civil rights are being denied). Emma reiterates the calming nature of repetition, constantly making electrical noises from a plastic disc while observing that ‘Ben puts up with a lot from me – I’m loud.’ Lastly Jestina’s parents in Sierra Leone mounted a campaign to educate a public who viewed their daughter as possessed by the devil. They eventually founded a school for her and others like her and her mother proudly relates that their community now greets these children by name when they come down the street. Jestina herself is always smiling.
Rothwell uses cinematic devices to try and give us the autistic experience, speeding up footage or showing things in identity-obscuring closeup. Raindrops are a favorite cutaway. One wishes he identified his subjects a bit better (if he ever told us who David Mitchell was, I missed it) and had gotten access to Naoki himself – the use of an actor in lyrical passages accompanied by passages from the book feels a bit manipulative, poetic recreation. I’d have loved someone to question the book’s author on just how he knows how neurotypicals experience the world, for example (one of the first things we hear is that while ‘we’ experience objects immediately in their entirety, he sees the details separately, things coming together later). But even given these drawbacks, “The Reason I Jump” accomplishes one of cinema’s primary objectives – giving us the perspective of a world unknown to us.
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