mon 18/10/2021

The Reason I Jump review - compelling and controversial | reviews, news & interviews

The Reason I Jump review - compelling and controversial

The Reason I Jump review - compelling and controversial

Director Jerry Rothwell explores the lives of four non-speaking autistic people

Jim Fujiwara plays Higashida, the author of 'The Reason I Jump'Jerry Rothwell's The Reason I Jump

Back in 2017, a non-speaking autistic teen, Naoki Higashida wrote and published The Reason I Jump. He hoped it would offer some insight into the minds of people with autism. The book was subsequently translated by Keiko Yoshida and her husband, Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell. 

The book was a publishing sensation featured on US talk shows, and seemed to herald a new day for how we understand neurodiversity. In the simplest terms it argues that, trapped beneath an autistic exterior, lies a rich, emotionally complex interior that can be unlocked. 

As much as it drew praise, the book was also met with an equal amount of scepticism and scorn. Some argued that Higashidas mother, along with Yoshida and Mitchell who are also parents to a child with autism, have inserted their own ideas into the text. Other critics have challenged the method by which Higashida wrote the text – an alphabetic grid that he would point at. 

A compelling, but complicated exploration of autism

It is clear which side of the argument director Jerry Rothwell stands on. His documentary blends Higashidas words with the cinematic medium to offer a visually compelling account of the ideas laid out in the book. 

Using the biographical text as a primer, Rothwell focuses on five young, non-verbal adults with autism from across the globe. Despite outward appearances, the director portrays a set of emotionally complex, rich inner lives that can be communicated to others when given the right tools. 

Cut with shots of Jim Fujiwara, an autistic Japanese teen who plays Higashida (pictured above and main picture), and narrated from Jordan O'Donegan, this is a compelling film, beautifully shot by Ruben Woodin Dechamps, with a captivating score from Nainita Desai. 

The ideas of the book are refracted through the real world, with Rothwell offering a visually arresting, sonically rich experience that immerses the audience with a sense of what it means to be autistic, albeit with inevitable limitations. 

Higashida, and indeed Rothwell, make no claim that the experiences shown represent the entire spectrum of autism. Their aim is to simply open the door to a new perception of neurodivergent experience. How successful is Rothwell in providing a realistic insight into this world? We are left to take it at face value that Higashidas words reflect, at least in part, what it means to live with autism. Nevertheless, whilst compellingly represented, there is little to no critique of Higadashi’s arguments with anything resembling scientific rigour. 

However, Rothwells film makes no claims of absolute truth. His and Higashidas work asks us to shift our perspective and embrace a different approach. For some it will be a leap too far, but theres no doubting the sincerity of this beautifully constructed documentary. 

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