Autism on Screen-Mozart and the Whale

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

To mark the end of autism awareness month, today I’d like to tell you about a film that in my opinion, is probably the most realistic representation of autism on screen- the 2005 romantic-comedy-drama film ‘Mozart and the Whale.

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(This film is also called ‘Crazy in Love‘ in some parts of the world)

The film follows the turbulent relationship between Donald (Josh Hartnett) and Isabelle (Radha Mitchell)- two adults with Asperger’s syndrome who meet at an autism support group.

Check out the trailer below:

What makes this film stand out from the crowd is that the film illustrates two very different pictures of AS and two different levels of functionality.

Donald, contrary to the OCD stereotype, lives in a hoarders paradise surrounded by birds (and their droppings…), and works as a taxi driver as he is unable to navigate job interviews to make use of his university degree. Isabelle in contrast lives in a highly organized environment, hairdressing by day and painting by night; maintaining a relatively normal social life and appearing to outsiders as merely eccentric.

Mozart and the Whale

In watching their interactions, a clear difference emerges in their expression of  AS. In addition to this, the background support groups also provide us with different pictures of autism with no two characters appearing the same.

Autism is unique, and this film remains true to that.

Another key element to this film is that of gender and autism. Other films such as ‘Snow Cake‘, have a tendency to portray women using the male experience of the condition, however, in this film we can see that there is a clear difference between autistic men and women.

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Unlike Donald, Isabelle appears relatively normal to an outsider, albeit eccentric. She performs better socially and in the workplace, and largely appears to be in control. The film also hints at Isabelle’s developed social coping skills when she says:

I can’t keep from shocking people so I make it work for me.

As someone who made great efforts in college to turn qualities that were once perceived as weird into (hopefully) endearing eccentricities, this remark completely resonated with me.

However, like many women with autism, Isabelle struggles with issues of mental health and she is seeing a therapist. This film gives us a true insight into the realities faced by many women living with AS.

This film has divided some critics as to it’s accuracy in it’s portrayal of autism. On the one hand, it has been praised by many critics as one of the truest cinematic representations of autism, however, others have criticized the film for portraying the leads as having savant skills (Donald is mathematical; Isabelle has artistic and musical savant skills).

I know, I sound like a hypocrite as I often give out about this over-representation,

BUT

the characters in ‘Mozart and the Whale‘ are based on a true story!! 😀

The film is loosely based on the love story of Jerry and Mary Newport, two people with AS who are savants!

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You can read a bit more on their story over on Goodreads:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/163483.Mozart_and_the_Whale

Fun Fact about the Film: The screenplay for ‘Mozart and the Whale‘ was written by Ron Bass- the same screenwriter for ‘Rain Man‘!

This fact is made even more interesting by the fact that ‘Rain Man‘ is often considered inaccurate, while ‘Mozart and the Whale‘ is perceived as the most accurate.

In comparing both films, we can really see a clear change in attitudes towards autism in the intervening 17 years. We move from a dramatic and stereotyped vision of autism to a friendlier, more accurate portrayal of the autistic condition.

If you want to watch a film about autism, this is the one to see.

This film definitely get’s Aoife’s ‘A’ of approval 😉

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Aoife

Autism on Screen- Snow Cake

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

In continuation from the previous post, today I’m going to have a look at a female character with autism in the 2006 indie romantic-comedy drama (that’s a LOT of genres! 😛 )  ‘Snow Cake‘.

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As discussed in my last post, gender bias is often an issue when it comes to women on the spectrum. Autism is viewed as a predominantly male condition, and as such this is reflected in Hollywood portrayals of autism.

We’ve all heard of ‘Rain Man’, but “Rain Woman” is rarely seen.

Snow Cake‘ is a really interesting example of this seemingly rare portrayal of autistic women on screen.

Starring Sigourney Weaver and the late Alan Rickman, ‘Snow Cake‘ explores the unusual relationship between Linda (a woman with high functioning autism) and Alex- a man who comes to visit Linda after her daughter Vivienne is killed in a car accident in which he was involved. Feeling guilty that he survived the accident, Alex set’s out to meet Linda and bring her some gifts that Vivienne had bought prior to her death, finding himself reluctantly drawn into her world.

You can view a trailer for this film below:

Before I get into the discussion of this, there is one line in the film (that can be seen in this trailer) that stands out for me:

I know all about autism- I’ve seen that film!”

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Granted, this line was likely included as a slight from the screenwriter, (a parent to an autistic child), towards public perceptions of autism, buuuutttt it does reinforce the importance of not believing everything Hollywood tells you of autism- something that one need bear in mind as to the portrayal of autistic women in this film in particular.

In terms of scientific portrayal of autism, the film gives a fairly accurate depiction of the symptoms.

BUT!

There is one major flaw…

Linda displays mostly male characteristics of autism!!

This is a common problem in on screen portrayals of autistic women as much of the information available to actors refers to male experiences of autism. For example, Diane Kruger was advised by a man with autism for her portrayal of Asperger’s syndrome in the series ‘The Bridge‘. When AS was featured in an episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy‘ many years ago, a behind the scenes featurette revealed that the actress based her performance on a boy she knew with autism!

For her role in ‘Snow Cake‘, Sigourney Weaver conducted a lot of research into the role and was actually coached by a woman with autism- Ros Blackburn. Aside from her endearing eccentricities however, the character of Linda does not differ greatly from other films featuring male characters.

The problem here may lie in the script for the film, as screenwriter Angela Pell is mother to a boy with autism, and her writing would have been heavily influenced by her experiences.

However, the film does provide a good reflection of the reality of autism in that Linda is not a savant or overtly intelligent as is often over-represented.

In addition to this, Alan Rickman interestingly chose not to research autism ahead of filming in order to accurately reflect the reactions and frustrations that an outsider would experience in an encounter with an autistic individual, adding a further dimension of realism to the film.

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All in all, gender issues aside, ‘Snow Cake‘, while not the most riveting of films (wasn’t my cup of tea) does paint quite a realistic picture of life with autism.

Happy Friday everyone! 🙂

Aoife

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