Age of Autism Comment of the Week
Don’t Try to Tell Me How to Love My Children.

Jake Crosby Reviews Fox Searchlight's "Adam" Movie with Asperger's

ADAM_One-Sheet-1 By Jake Crosby

“Adam,” A Review

The movie “Adam” was billed as a romantic comedy, but to a person with Asperger Syndrome, it might be more of a suspense drama.  Part of the reason for this could just be that I am not used to watching a character with my condition on the big screen since the movie is perhaps the first where the main character had Asperger Syndrome. “Adam,” though an independent film, can well be described as breaking ground that Hollywood has not yet breached.

In contrast to distortions espoused by Hollywood and Denis Leary characterizing autistics as savants, “Adam” was a strikingly accurate portrayal of an Asperger Syndrome sufferer, which was perhaps why the movie was well received. I’m no expert on acting, but if Hugh Dancy really never heard of Asperger Syndrome before getting the lead role as Adam, as he said in a recent interview with Autism Speaks, then he is a very good actor.

Perhaps the real question is not how accurately Asperger Syndrome was portrayed, but whether or not a movie that accurately portrays a guy in his twenties with Asperger Syndrome has a potential target audience in guys in their twenties with Asperger Syndrome. That was not the kind of crowd I saw shuffling into the theater to watch the movie, and I was the odd man out, though I guess it is possible there may have been others like me who I did not take into consideration. The audience was predominantly middle-aged couples. “Parents,” I thought, most likely of children with Asperger Syndrome or even Autism Spectrum Disorders in general who wanted to learn more about their kids’ conditions. There were some people my age in attendance. I suppose any of them could have had Aspergers, though I tend to doubt it.

People with Asperger Syndrome may have difficulty watching a film where the main character has the same condition. Many aspects of the movie made me feel uncomfortable. For example, the lonely, non-social aspects of Adam’s living situation would probably draw a striking parallel to my dorm situation had a friend not been living across the hall from me. Other issues of Asperger Syndrome, such as anxiety, meltdowns, employment problems, and issues with self-reliance were also highlighted in the movie. As someone who has suffered from all of these problems, I was very appreciative of finally seeing my disorder represented on the big screen. However, because I dealt with the same condition as the character in the movie, the negative scenes stood out much more than the romance or comedy scenes.

The humorous scenes of the movie included the more subtle problems of Asperger Syndrome, usually involving Adam’s awkward behavior around the other main character, Beth, and her friends. This included monologues about outer space, Adam’s repetitive interest, and other aspects like empathy problems, saying whatever’s on your mind and not getting sarcasm. Taking all this into account, Beth, having just left a previous relationship with an unfaithful boyfriend, puts up with quite a lot.

But how representative is this of women in general when dealing with a person on the autism spectrum? For most of the movie aside from the very end, the issue of people with Asperger Syndrome having relationships does not really get addressed. There is not as much conflict as one would normally expect and instead, Beth just tolerated Adam’s odd behavior and spoke of his better qualities such as, “He’s really sweet,” rather than getting turned off by his ASD like I feel most women would. At one point, Beth did say, “Oh, so he’s not good relationship material,” after talking about Asperger Syndrome with a co-worker at the school where she teaches, but it seems that statement is quite the exception.

This is not to say that I don’t think a person with Asperger Syndrome is capable of a relationship, but I think for the most part, the movie did not highlight the challenges of beginning and maintaining a relationship as realistically as it did the other aspects of having an ASD. This is why the cheerful, funny romance scenes did not stand out as much for me as the more serious ones. Often, what one remembers is what is familiar to him. I’ve never had a relationship that was equivalent to the one featured in the movie, and since having one seems unrealistic, I would have imagined more friction between Adam and Beth throughout the film. Then maybe the romance scenes might have stuck with me more, but it seemed the makers of this film believed there were enough negative scenes that adding in any more might change the genre of the movie.

It was, however, nice to watch a man with Asperger Sydrome having an intimate relationship, however unrealistically it may translate over to real life. The humorous scenes were also effective at providing some comic relief. However, I found myself walking out of the theater feeling more rattled than amused or like my heart had been touched. If watching this romantic comedy felt more like watching a suspenseful drama to me, then I can only imagine what watching a real suspenseful drama featuring a main character with Asperger Syndrome would be like.

Still, I was glad to see my condition finally gaining some feature film reputability, and I think those with Asperger Syndrome should watch this movie, if they can stomach the discomfort of watching their ailment represented on the big screen in a large room full of people. As important as it is for other people to be made aware of our condition, I feel it is equally important for us to become aware of the public perception of our condition.

Jake Crosby is a history student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University, and a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.

Comments

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Dorothy

I have a 15 year old son with Asperger's. To the mom who felt guilt that her 19 year old son was not diagnosed sooner: it's my understanding that 1994 (the year my son was born)was when it was given a name and/or recognized. Even then, it must have been slow going. Even now, there is controversy about whether it's high functioning autism, or sort of a 'cousin' on the Spectrum. I've even heard one person in the Psych biz that said "kids can't get help until diagnosis occurs, and autism is already recognized. So, for the sake of getting help for the kids and funding for the schools, it's generally categorized as a form of autism." Let us have No Guilt about the past and work on the here and now, because that's the only way to survive.

Pat Davis

Thanks for ths insight. I have met and fell in love with a man who I supect has AS. I recently learned of it at CASA training. I recognized traits that my friend has. He knows something is different. He makes me laugh all the time. He always says that's not funny. He takes everything you say literally. He is very sweet with a heart of gold. I am praying to God to help me say the right words to him. I am very interested in the movies on AS. Thank you Jake.

Lindsey

My husband and our older son (11) have AS. My husband and I have been married 18 years. It helps that I am on the autism spectrum and a little quirky myself. I don't know how to write what I want to say but please don't give up. You can find someone who appreciates you for who you are even if she has to endure seemingly endless lectures about (fill in the blank).;)

Jake Crosby

Well Jen, if he has a girlfriend, then he's definitely doing better than most people with AS, including myself. From that perspective, I can see why he would not want to feel that he has it. For me, it was not after receiving several professional diagnoses topped off by the mention of chelation for mercury that rehashed memories of a TV news report I watched on thimerosal three and a half years prior. My acceptance was only a year ago, though I had known about my AS diagnosis for a number of years prior to that.

The best thing I can advise is taking him to a psychologist, but not telling your son that the specific reason is for an Aspergers diagnosis. If he does get diagnosed, tell the psychologist that you want to guide your son to acceptance of his condition.

I have been taken to a lot of shrinks who have helped me through a variety of problems, but acceptance was not one of them. So I had to accept my ASD on my own, and that took longer as a result. However, I think if you make yourself very clear about how you want to help your son to whomever you take him to, he may come to accept his ASD
from the time of first being told about it much quicker than me, if he has one.

Jen

I have not seen this movie but plan on it. I have a different issue. I'm the mother of a 19 year old college student. I've discussed with him the possibility that he may have Asperger and he adamantly denies it. I'd like him to get diagnosed so that he can receive any help that he needs. He does have a new girlfriend and I keep wondering how long it will last before she sees his symptoms. They don't see that much of each other because she works a lot. My heart is breaking because I didn't know about Asperger Syndrome sooner. I had never read anything about it until about 6 months ago but he really fits the profile. Any suggestions?

Sue

Jake, if you haven't, read "Look Me In the Eye" by John Elder Robison, the brother of the man who wrote "Running With Scissors." John is an adult with Asperger's, and he is now happily married and "quirky." It CAN happen.

Lorraine La Pointe

Thanks Jake for the first person perspective. I can't wait for the film to come to our corner of NC. My son although not Aspie (ASD) is dying for friends and relationships. It is something that affects everyone on the spectrum.

John Wood

Just added your article to Advance's blog: http://advancecentres.blogspot.com/2009/08/jake-crosby-reviews-fox-searchlights.html Hope you don't mind. :) Actually, I think you might have a lot in common with Linda Scotson's work and Advance Centres.

Today's BBC article: Autistic impressions

Today's BBC has an article about how Hollywood movies deal with portraying disabilities.

Autistic impressions
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8192895.stm

bensmyson

"In fact, I probably laughed more than I would have had I been neurotypical due to my discomfort of having an ASD. "

So many times over the past two years I have been told that my son and others within the ASD are unaware of their differences. At first this gave me some comfort but later on in my research I have found that not to be true. Some people do realize that they are "different" and are hurt by it.

I saw a news item on ABC about a teenage girl that can not speak but can communicate on a computer. She has issues with autism and most of the typical characteristics associated with that are easy to recognize. The reporter was attempting to get her to show him how she communicates and she refused to cooperate until she found out he had a teenage son. When she learned this she typed, "Is he cute?" Which to me meant she was looking for boy girl companionship. I couldn't help but wonder about her frustrations and the amount of rejection she encountered because of her autism and how it must be extremely hard on her, particularly if she knew that her autism may be the cause.

If a natural desire to enter into a loving relationship is hamstrung because of autism, or the fear of autism this must cause a great deal of pain. Not having seen this movie I dont know if it addresses that or not. And I would appreciate your take on this aspect on it as well.

Thanks.

Sierra

To Clay, Jake has the same right to speak for himself, and to put his experience of the spectrum into words, as any ND does. If he says he has a disorder, why is that less valid than an ND who says he doesn't? It seems that only NDs are allowed to "speak for the spectrum" and no one else on the spectrum can speak for him or herself. I don't see how that makes sense.

Jake Crosby

To everybody else, I really appreciate your supportive comments, as always.

Jake Crosby

To the more supportive readers with questions, no I do not think that this could function as a social story. While I do feel it is still important for people with Aspergers, including teenagers, to see this movie, I don't think it goes far enough to properly teaching them how to start and maintain relationships, the biggest problems for people with Aspergers. A big factor for the relationship even existing as it did was thanks to the other main character, Beth, who was tolerant of Adam's behavior and may have had more of an appreciation for someone like him after just leaving an unfaithful relationship.

As for the question regarding the more humorous scenes, I did not have a problem laughing at the same scenes others in the audience found amusing. In fact, I probably laughed more than I would have had I been neurotypical due to my discomfort of having an ASD.

Theresa

Clay, I think Jake meant that having a relationship *like the one in the movie* seems unrealistic to him. I haven't seen the movie yet, but Jake's comment makes all the sense in the world to me! Beth almost never comments negatively on the challenging aspects of dating Adam? I could see why Jake would find that unrealistic. (Heck, girlfriends of most neurotypical guys comment all the time on what's tough about dealing with them!)
Great review, Jake. Interesting to get your perspective on this film.

Jake Crosby

Clay Adams,

I am well aware of the movie you are referring to, Jonathan Mitchell told me about it. In fact, there was even a character in that film which he said was based on himself. When I said this was the first movie about a main character with Asperger Syndrome, I meant ONLY Asperger Syndrome and not Savant Syndrome to go with it.

Had you read the article more carefully you'd have known this is what I meant. I clearly mention at the beginning of the second paragraph people and institutions which have promoted the "savant" stereotype, like Hollywood, and Bill Hicks-rip off Denis Leary.

Cherry Sperlin Misra

To Gatogorra, Right on- After a woman has spent years blaming her quirky husband and his odd family for the son's Aspergers, how can she now admit that the vaccines which she gave and the fish that she ate caused the damage. So join the ND club. This is the mentality that Simon Baron Cohen tapped into so successfully. Recently I met a man whose family has been given the credit for the sons Aspergers. He said that he was amazed to find that now poor peoples children are getting autism. (This is in New Delhi) You see, Dr. Baron Cohen had convinced him that only the geeks would get it. I told him that the Indian Association of Pediatrics had started 9 mercury vaccines by 6 months and then changed it, about 5 years ago to 9 by three and a half months, so now autism is an equal opportunity disorder. I dont know if he was even listening to me.
Jake- Im 63 years old and as I look back I realize that the effects of the mercury which I received as a child of 2 or 3, slowly dropped away over my lifetime. A few things left me by age 40 or 50 and perhaps even now I feel that I am slightly different to many other women, but it does not bother me. For years I felt that I could not feel emotions in the same way that others did, but after a lifetime of experiences, I now find that sometimes I am more empathetic than others. I hope and pray that you may have the same experience.
To Clay- Please study the research about the ways in which the bodies and brains of autistic persons vary from normal physiology. An Aspergers brain, is not a normally functioning brain.And more research is yet to come.Watch and see. I wish that changing oneself were as easy as just acting the way you want to be. Notice the word "acting" . You just cant "act" your way through life ;you feel like a fraud and you just cant keep it up for any length of time

Deborah (www.debstake.wordpress.com)

Excellent piece Jake. I will be renting this one when it comes to Blockbuster. I have several movies where the central theme is aspergers/autism. Snow Cakes and Mercury Rising are the ones that come immediately to mind. And of course Rain Man. Of them all it is the Snow Cakes movie I most relate to. Due I believe to the main character (Sigourney Weaver)and her reactions to the death of her daughter. "Appropriate" feelings for someone who has difficulties understanding emotions is difficult. Something I can understand on some level.

My inability to read facial features has called me to misjudge people. It has cost me in other areas as well.

I am looking forward to this movie. Thanks for the critique.

Clay

Breaking ground? First movie where the main character had Asperger's Syndrome? I guess you've never heard of "Mozart and the Whale", a story loosely based on Jerry Newport and his wife Mary. John Mitchell knows him very well, ask him about it.

"My condition"? AS sufferer"? "my disorder"?
"their ailment"? Where does it hurt, Jake? If there's nothing wrong with your body, how can you have a "disease"?

"and since having one (relationship) seems unrealistic,"

If You don't believe you'll have one, then you won't. You Can, if you Want one. It's up to you.

michael framson

Thanks Jake, for helping us see through your eyes and heart.

Benedetta Stilwell

Jake, I taught school, and I picked out a girl for my son. She flirted, and did everything that was considered to be a lady to get him to ask her out. I even kept telling him to ask her out. He told me that if I liked her so much I should go out with her. SIGH! She was my pick!

He is interested in girls,- those that look like movie stars, so maybe he deserves what he gets.

There are nice girls out there that will put up with a lot for a man that treats her with respect.

nhokkanen

Thank you again, Jake; I appreciate your perspective on viewing the film, especially because I likely won't view it until it's on DVD. The Sundance review called it "charming and beautiful."

I see that it's rated PG-13. Do you think that the movie could function as a type of social story for teenagers?

AnaB

This is the second movie I know of where the main character has Aspergers, Jake. The other one is called Mozart and The Whale (both in the couple are Aspies) which I thought was quite a good movie.

Twyla

As always, Jake, your comments are very interesting! Thanks for writing.

bensmyson

Mr. Crosby, I wonder what it may have been like to sit in a room full of other sorts of people and witness how they respond to something that may have been portrayed accurately, with laughter or whatever, and how you wondered why they laughed or sighed? I mean lets say Im scared to death of spiders and as far as I know everyone is just like me, fact is no one likes spiders and there is a scene in a movie where a character screams then reacts nervously and everyone in the theater laughs. I'd wonder why they laughed. I wouldn't really understand the joke. Did you find any of that happening while being in the audience?

Gatogorra

Thanks, Jake. I haven't seen the film yet but I will. I could already tell by the trailer that, even if depictions of the disorder were "lite" in some ways, it seemed the film was going to get specific enough about behaviors that some self-diagnosing enthusiasts might be dissuaded.

Because so many children are becoming injured these days, that means that many more parents are going through periods of denial and some are in danger of falling under the ND spell for this reason. I've run into way too many moms who, while watching their children regress (usually into Aspergers, since the fact that the child can be verbal sometimes feeds the denial), started trying to diagnose their husbands with Aspergers. In every case, the armchair diagnosis was ludicrous, but these moms really needed to think there was a chance their intoxicated kids would grow up to be no more impaired than a husband who forgets anniversaries and sometimes isn't friendly to members of the PTA or garden club (which would be most husbands at any given time). I think this film will close that avenue of denial a little more, which is a good thing if it gets some children into recovery faster.

I can understand how the film might be suspenseful and I think every parent who's concerned for their child's future will feel it if you did. I wonder if the "suspense" is partly based on whether society is ever going to figure out that this mass of "quirky" young people were injured so that some people could think they were safe from disease. They are in a sense veterans of war and society should take responsibility to understand and try to empathize with what it's like for "collateral" to get through life. I hope the love interest in the film represents a hopeful future possibility of a kind of empathic, "educate-able" person my own children will enounter.

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