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Movie Reviews

The Reason I Jump ★★★



Director: Jerry Rothwell

Released: 18th June 2021 in UK Cinemas

Adapted from the bestselling book of the same name, the documentary The Reason I Jump invites us in the autists’ mind to discover the astonishingly simple ways whereby one can communicate with these very much normal people. Evocative patterned imagery allegorises their intricately beautiful world, through which they perceive everything “detail by detail”, so “the whole image floats into focus”. Yet, the film’s lawless structure fails to assemble its pieces into a focussed lesson for the layman. And, ironically, this contrasts the autist’s perfectly organised brain.

There is some polemic about the source material’s reliability. The book declares its autistic author, Naoki Higashida, learned to communicate via “facilitated communication”. A technique where a facilitator (in this case, Higashida’s mother) guides the arm of a verbally disabled person to type on a keyboard or point to letters. By addressing the book’s “overbeautiful” poetry, some scholars discredit the claims that Higashida wrote the book himself, meaning his mother didn’t just “guide his arm”; a psychologist even asserts the situation highlights “an autistic child’s parents’ dream”. Interestingly, the film shows us how autists point to letters or type without anybody supporting their arm. For instance, during a history lesson, the teacher asks a question and then holds an alphabet board so that the autistic persons point to the letters to spell out their answers. And they answer correctly! Autism researchers assert that verbal disabilities don’t necessarily reflect an inability to communicate. Since speech is a motor function, the autists who lack body control can still communicate through other methods. So, maybe Higashida writing the book himself is a possibility?

The Reason I Jump introduces viewers to many fascinating autistic adolescents, but it slightly focuses on two. With her vibrant, overtly contoured shades, Amrit draws paintings inspired by her daily activities. She captures her meals, her physical activities, or the poetic landscapes she’s seen throughout her window. Charmingly introduced in a low-angle shot from the back, as if we’re observing the all-season MVP, Ben plays hockey and maintains an inspiriting friendship without spoken language.

The documentary’s attempt to portray the autists as different yet nothing-wrong-with-them people is quite apparent. And the various image interplays usually do the trick. As we get acquainted with the autistic adolescents, the film leads us into a symbolic field where we start viewing the environment as an autist might. This means we stop seeing the objects as a whole first; we must carefully examine all the details, amalgamate them, and then perceive the entity. For example, we observe the myriad raindrops, which then “form” the ocean. Or we look at curious close-ups of the elements of an object, which we then identify. And Higashida’s words start making perfect sense. The feeling is different, it’s slower, but we just have to “spare a little time to understand what I’m trying to say”.

And we spare that time. Gladly. But The Reason I Jump doesn’t have a clue how to utilise it. After the film’s half, we’ve met all the autistic adolescents and their families’ struggles. Then we go back to meet them again. But there’s nothing new to learn; the same people say the same things. Given the scope of the subject matter, it’s unbelievable there’s nothing else to say. The film could’ve at least elaborated on its, undoubtedly, most exciting element—non-verbal communication. Since most viewers wouldn’t be familiar with the communication techniques, they would be awfully impressed by their believability and efficacy. It’s a mystery why nobody capitalised on that.  

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