tue 23/04/2024

Louis Theroux: Extreme Love, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Louis Theroux: Extreme Love, BBC Two

Louis Theroux: Extreme Love, BBC Two

An eye-opening film about autism merits a more mature approach from Theroux

Theroux at the DLC Warren, a speciaist autism school in New Jersey

In Louis Theroux: Extreme Love, a film about the realities of looking after children with autism, a mother of twin girls from New Jersey confessed: “I just try and make them happy because, God forgive me, I don’t get a lot of enjoyment from them.” Meanwhile Josephine, the relentlessly cheery mother of 20-year-old Brian, remarked: “To be afraid of your child is a terrible thing.”

Brian’s extreme autism had caused him to burn down the family home at the age of eight, and repeatedly attack his mother, pulling her hair out in clumps. On one occasion he tried to strangle her so she called the police. Now he was in residential care and made day trips to see Josephine at the weekend. Her life was all the better for it.

Prejudice used to be a prerequisite for a Theroux documentary, as much among its viewers as its subjects. The porn stars, neo-Nazis and religious zealots that inhabited his earlier films invited instant judgement that was invariably relaxed as the presenter found the humanity lurking beneath. But now Theroux seems to have moved into a more mature phase, alighting on subjects with little comic potential and which leave no doubt as to where our sympathies should lie.

Nicky looked up Theroux on his computer. 'This is Louis' he told a friend. 'He’s popular in the UK. He has a Wikipedia page!'

Certainly, no one was judging Josephine for shipping off her son to the care of professionals during the week, least of all Theroux. The presenter’s intimidation in the face of Brian, a hulking man-child whose verbal communication came in grunts, was palpable, though with time and persistence he found him to be social and capable of affection. There was a wonderful moment where, in the car with Josephine, Brian and Louis finally seemed to make a connection, the pair of them dancing self-consciously in their seats to the music on the radio.

Theroux’s gaucheness is his stock in trade, and it was all present and correct here. But while some might say that asking a mother if her child’s autism made her love him any less might reveal the presenter to be lacking a few social skills himself, you had to applaud him for asking the questions that most of us had been thinking (the answer, in this case, was no).

Visiting various families, Theroux was exposed to a range of extreme behaviours from prolonged shrieking to the pushing and punching of parents. As 13-year-old Joey (pictured right) lashed out and was calmly and methodically pinned to the floor by his parents, Theroux offered to step out of the room but Joey’s mother declined. She wanted people to know exactly what she was up against.

There were moments of levity too, the best being when Nicky, a bright and voluble 19-year-old, looked up Theroux on his computer. “This is Louis” he told a friend. “He’s from the BBC and he’s popular in the UK. I’m not kidding. He has a Wikipedia page!” Nicky was a student at New Jersey’s pioneering Developmental Learning Center which provided one-to-one tuition to autistic youngsters, and had a corridor that was built to look like a high street, complete with artificial shops, to help the children get used to life in the real world. Exercises that involved sorting foodstuffs into different boxes seemed to suggest that, for many of them, stacking shelves was the most likely career path.

It was an eye-opening film in part because you saw how many of these children could thrive in a sympathetic, trained environment, but also because it offered a candid account of the challenges faced by parents with no outside help. Theroux avoided glib conclusions in what was essentially a study of love, loyalty and the duty of parenthood – a duty that sometimes meant putting your child in the care of someone else.


Why is this made in USA - MAKE PROGRAMMES IN UK - WE NEED MORE AWARENESS OF AUTISM IN UK - Dont the programme makers realise the extent of autism in UK??? We have a grandson, born at 24 weeks. weighing 1lb 6oz, now 5 years old, diagnosed with autism - like thousands of families in UK we need more awareness of autism in UK - why are BBC spending money to make programmes like this in USA???? why did they not speak to professionals in this field, parents and carers need more help, please dont go the way of government and spend so much money on foreign points of view/aid, SUPPORT AWARENESS OF AUTISM IN UK...

The political naivety of the "inclusion" policy expecting teachers to educate autistic children in a classroom with "normal" children was amply illustrated by this programme.

Is it because the schools such as the one shown in the programme don't exist in the UK perhaps due to the inclusion policy the previous comment highlighted?

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