The Reason I Jump Review: Flawed but Definitely Worth Watching
Slightly erroneous, but mostly honest.
Disclaimer: When I group people with autism together it’s just shorthand, I don’t literally mean they’re all the same. Clearly there is variance. It’s just for simplicity’s sake.
The Reason I Jump is available on Kino Marquee to stream in a virtual cinema on January 8.
In 2007 The Reason I Jump: One Boy’s Voice from the Silence of Autism was published in Japan. Six years later it was translated into English and its success only grew. It is claimed–this is important–that it was written by Naoki Higashida, a thirteen-year-old with autism and is meant to be a memoir about his life and experiences.
Despite the enormous amount of acclaim that it has gotten, there has also been a considerable backlash. I have never read the novel but from my research it became clear that two factors stuck out: the first being the authenticity of the aforementioned authorial claims and the furtherance of facilitated communication–a technique that allegedly assists with helping nonverbal people communicate with others.
The purpose of this review is not to zone in on the overabundance of evidence that suggests that facilitated communication has been thoroughly debunked or whether Higashida wrote the novel in which the movie is based. But it also can’t be ignored because this adaptation obviously lifts from it.
I’m very torn on this movie but I’ll get this out of the way right from the outset. It’s a good movie, ultimately. There are elements of it that are beautiful along with fascinating, but there are also conflicting elements that infuriate me. I’ll start with the bad so we can end with what I consider the positive, important aspects.
When The Reason I Jump leans into the more controversial features of the novel it is considerably weaker than when it relies on its own merits. The potency of this negativity varies from piece to piece, running a gauntlet from genuinely misleading and scientifically unsound to unnecessary but inoffensive.
The narration lifted from the book is occasionally drivel that turns autistic people into mythological beings, as the novel apparently does from time to time. Sometimes it plays to the narrative in an effective way, but other times it gets bogged down in its own language. It being at its worst is uncommon enough that it’s easy to gloss over, which makes this the least of the problems. Honestly, it didn’t matter to me in context of this film if Higashida wrote it because, thankfully, very little of the more eye roll inducing content was included. There’s definitely a debate to be had there, but the film side steps some landmines to a degree.
I ignored the fluffy language–one of the sources for the questioning of who the real author of the novel is–but it was much more difficult to turn my head away from the insistence of facilitated communication. As far as I know it’s never named, but it’s there and it’s incredibly present. From the way it’s showcased in the film (unopposed) it would be easy to follow the proponents of the technique. I could not do that. Even some of the editing promoted that nonsense.
Fortunately, the film undertakes the role of being more of a companion piece to the novel, rather than a direct adaptation. When doing this the quality shifts so vastly that it’s hard to imagine that this is the same flick that I just got done ragging on.
The director, Jerry Rothwell, made this more of a general commentary on neurodiversity, shining the light on a few different people from different parts of the globe. It is as much their story as it is the story of Higashida. It is here that information is given, and it’s where the documentary can actually be considered a documentary.
Watching these people go about their lives is both uplifting and a little depressing. It’s sad seeing the challenges that they face, especially in one moment where we witness a small portion of a meltdown, but the filmmaker also chooses to not get lost in the darkness of said challenges. They are people with unique identities, thoughts and interactions with those around them, even if there is a through line.
It’s not just them, though. Anybody who is close to someone with autism can attest that it is difficult. What bothers me about the discussion around illness is that there are humans who see anything that isn’t entirely positive as some kind of oppressive statement. This is simply not true. We can acknowledge problems while also respecting those who suffer and accommodating them in the most reasonable and compassionate way possible.
To me that’s one of the strengths of the film. We witness how the families deal with it, because while people on the spectrum suffer the brunt of the impact, those who care are right beside them. It’s not always easy, and the film shows the viewer this without being exploitative or hateful.
It’s odd to me that this year has been so diverse in how it has managed sound. We had the excellent Sound of Metal which dealt with deafness in a brilliant way, but we’ve also had Christopher Nolan misunderstanding audio in Tenet. The Reason I Jump joins Sound of Metal in being a kick to the head to Nolan, who should know better.
Sensory overload is associated with autism and Rothwell made the wise choice to make it as much of a character in this story as it is in their lives. He does this by calling attention to both the environment in both an aural and visual sense.
Sounds often top the hierarchy, periodically being uncomfortable to listen to. It mimics the way in which autistic people experience sound. It’s always there, it’s loud, and it draws their attention. If I had to compare it to another filmmaker, I would say that Rothwell handles sound in much the same way as David Fincher, only for different reasons. It’s actually such a fundamental aspect of filmmaking that isn’t given as much credence as it should be, so it’s pleasant seeing another director pay it so much mind. It’s not meant to be subtle, it’s meant to be abrupt and in your face.
This is accompanied by kinetic camera work. Not only is audio heightened, but the camera quickly flashes elsewhere at any given moment, itself being a metaphor for how neurodiverse people can view the world. Scattered throughout are neat little on-screen tricks, inspired environment usage and framing that further this.
With that said, it’s not disorienting. There’s a scene near the end which uses colour in a way that perfectly demonstrates this in a cinematic way while also being accessible. It straddles a line between being experimental and conventional. It’s not as if Rothwell is clubbing us over the head with artistic flourishes but he certainly does not shy away from expecting a little bit of engagement from the audience. He could have made the experience even more demanding for the viewer and it would have made thematic sense, but this is much easier to get into than I am probably making it seem.
The Reason I Jump is a tale of two movies. On one side of the fence it sporadically encourages pseudoscience while copping some of what appears to be the most frustrating characteristics of the novel in which it’s based. But the Wilson on the other side–yeah, I referenced Home Improvement–grants wisdom on a very relevant and misunderstood subject, and does so with directorial finesse. I’ll reiterate that I think this is a good movie when taken as a whole, but it could have been great.
I used an alphabet board with this guy and he said I suck. So I guess facilitated communication isn’t completely wrong.
THAT'S ENOUGH, GET TO THE SCORE
DROP THE FC
It’s impossible not to feel torn when discussing The Reason I Jump. It’s a good, but flawed, movie that peddles some bad science while performing the rest of its task in a genuine, empathetic way. Ignore some of it, embrace the quality stuff, and there’s a lot to like.