Since last year’s article was well received, I thought that it would be good to do another one this year covering three new films from different countries and genres. If you are interested in reading the previous article, I have added a link at the bottom for you to enjoy.
After Thomas (dir. Simon Shore) – 2006
Based on the book A Friend Like Henry written by Nuala Gardner, this ITV drama focuses on the story of the married couple Rob Graham (Ben Miles) and Nicola Graham (Keeley Hawes) as they struggle to control the behavior of their six-year-old autistic son, Kyle (Andrew Byrne). As Kyle hates everyday social activity, Rob and Nicola have a hard time to communicate with him that also affects their relationship.
And that is when the success of this film appears in the form of a dog named Thomas is brought into their home by the couple, hoping that it would help to calm their child and eventually start to communicate with his parents. The parents even literally talk through the dog to trick their child into being able to sit at the table quietly and putting new shoes on in a shop without panicking.
Lots of films have focused on a relationship between families and dogs, but it’s interesting to see a film that focuses on one of the many true stories of autistic children communicating through their animal companion. While I personally thought that the film was a little bit too dramatic in places to tell the story in the point of view of a parent, it was still interesting to see the Graham’s story.
Autism: The Musical (dir. Tricia Regan) – 2007
Documentary filmmaker Tricia Regan went onto her first feature length project with Autism: The Musical, which was screened at a few film festivals before being aired on HBO in the US and Sky Atlantic in the UK.
The film focuses on five families who each have an autistic child (with each one having a different form) as they take part in the theatre program The Miracle Project, which is specifically aimed at children on the spectrum working together for a play and performing it in-front of an audience. The documentary focuses on both the play and the five families as we see why they wanted to get their children on the program, seeing how they slowly learn to become more sociable and managing to work together.
The documentary does have good intentions and it’s great to see that we get the parent and child’s point of view equally, but I felt that they were trying to specifically aim at the end result from the start and somewhat felt very predictable for a documentary. The choice to focus more on some children than others also made this a little one minded and while the director was obviously trying to introduce people to families with autistic children, it is not the best film nor introduction on the subject matter despite the intentions it might have had.
Mary and Max (dir. Adam Elliot) – 2009
Premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and following a successful festival circuit run, this animated Australian film was nominated for some of the festivals’ awards and even managed to win some for it’s charming and entertaining story.
Based on a true story, the lonely eight-year-old Australian named Mary Dinkle (Toni Collette) is living within a neighborhood filled with quirky, yet unsocial, characters that picks a random person out of a Manhattan phonebook and decides to send him a letter. After a few weeks, the letter reaches an overweight, Jewish man with Asperger Syndrome (a form of autism) named Max Horowitz (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), where their unusual and innocent friendship spans for twenty years.
As a film that uses animation to show Mary and Max’s way of thinking and how they have both helped one another to engage with their own worlds, seeing how her innocence can also accidentally cause as much harm to Max as it does good. But even when Mary grows up into a young woman and is aware of Asperger Syndrome, she still accidentally causes him to become frustrated with the world.
Using humor as well as animation to show audiences how an autistic character thinks, I think that this is definitely one of the best and honest portrayals as they never use his disability to get a very dramatic effect. This is worth recommending out of these three films as it introduces audiences to the good and bad sides of an autistic without being dishonest about the subject.