Monday, April 18, 2016


Autism has to be seen as another way of feeling


This is a film that will not age, at least not really. It is the second film on the subject of autism that has the status of a classic. The first one was Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man. This one centers on the same problem, autism, but for a woman, which is a minority case for this disease. The situation is slightly more complicated because it starts with the daughter of this autistic mother and we will only learn later in the film, close to the end, from her own parents themselves that at the time no one understood what actually happened though her father believes she must have been forced, which is in no way certain though, because the idea of an “experiment” might be just right. The man must then have taken advantage of the curiosity and of the experiment.

The beginning of the film is dramatic because of a road accident in which a truck rams into a car and kills the daughter of Linda, the autistic mother, hitchhiking to visit her mother. Then the driver of the car goes to Linda’s to try to explain her what happened and we discover in a few days spent there till the day after the funeral what kind of a life this autistic person is having in her community. And that’s where we are surprised. She has a job in a supermarket in phase with her handicap: she puts merchandise on the racks, items that have to be set in rows and well aligned. Nothing difficult but something she can do without any problem.

She is a very solitary person, meaning that she often closes herself onto herself and lives in her own world. She does not reject the outside world. She just retires inside her own mental world. In this Wawa town the neighbors know about her and they all take care of her, look after her, without ever invading her “privacy.” She accepts that help though she would never solicit it, though she does for the garbage from the driver of the car in which her daughter was killed and she has invited to stay in her home for a few days. She does not always thank people for that help, though she does in her own way. It is true some people do not understand that and try to invade that personal field and bring her back into some “normal” behavior. But these are very fast put back in their places and told not to meddle.

In a way, when everything is organized very clearly she can cope with life that becomes a routine and she can even cope with things that come unwanted and unannounced and that she integrates in her routine. That’s the real interest of this film. To explore Linda’s  personal mental world, which we will never be able to know for sure since she does not explain and express that inner world, but we can explore it through what she does, her reactions, her actions, her own ways to cope with a situation that is maybe beyond her own comprehension, at least a comprehension of our type. The situation is serious since it is the death and funeral of her own daughter. She has a room entirely dedicated to her and she reacts in such a way that we know she knows it is important but she cannot mourn or grieve the way we do. She will just start dancing on a music her daughter liked and the film maker makes us understand at this moment she dances with her own daughter though she only dances with herself in our own eyes.

Is it truly what happens? We cannot know.

The only important thing is that autistic people must not be institutionalized but must be provided with living conditions that enable them to have an active, and even productive, life adapted to their own means, their own interests, their own capabilities. Of course it is the capabilities they can invest in our social and economic life, but that enables them to have the time and the autonomy necessary to live their mental life in some kind of freedom under the loving and attentive care of people around who are there to help, not to command, govern or control.

One thing is missing in the film. Linda has a full calendar for the month of April with her schedule properly written day after day. We assume she can read but it is not said that she must have a social worker who helps her write down the schedule of the month. The film though assumes she can read and maybe write, but there is no visual indication that she can actually do it: she does not write and she does not read in the film. The film is already old and today we have discovered that computers can help tremendously because autistic people might be limited in oral and written communication, but they can be trained into computer literacy and that enables them to communicate a lot better, even to express their feelings and their experience, though we are not advanced enough to be able to say if it is true for all autistic people, though we can say that the earlier the better and in the US they diagnose the disease as soon as 6 months and start acting on it as soon as they have such a diagnosis.


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