Nathan's Kingdom


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Nathan's Kingdom
"Although Lince is consistently good and Ford generally holds her own, the film tends to meander where it should be making more of this."

Laura (Madison Ford) and Nathan (Jacob Lince) are brother and sister. That, Nathan says, is more important than anything. It's why he looked after her in childhood when their dad left. It's why she looks after him now and is desperately trying to keep him from being institutionalised. Nathan is autistic and disinclined to make much effort to fit in with those around him, which is one thing when he's dressing up or telling stories, another when he's picking fights or jumping into strangers' swimming pools. Like many carers, Laura is stuck in an impossible situation, simply unable to provide him with 24 hour supervision and earn the money she needs to keep a roof over their heads at the same time. So with social services closing in, they go on a road trip. He's convinced that finding the magical kingdom to which he is heir will solve all their problems. She hopes at least to be able to give him one more day of fun and give herself a break before dealing with reality.

This film is notable for casting an autistic actor as its autistic character, something that happens all too rarely, and it benefits significantly as a result. Because he behaves in ways that are natural to him instead of imitating the behaviours neurotypical people expect of those with autism, Lince comes across as more natural to those familiar with the spectrum and is also free to focus on his character. The result is that Nathan's autism becomes far less relevant as an aspect of his personality, important only in what it contributes directly to the plot, and the focus is much more on the relationship between the siblings. Can they get past their day to day struggles for long enough to remember what they've meant to one another?

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Olicer J Muñoz's film took a long time in the planning and it takes too long onscreen as well. It's important to create a sense of time passing in order to explain the stresses that central relationship has faced, but the pacing of this film doesn't really achieve that - instead it feels stretched and padded. Although Lince is consistently good and Ford generally holds her own, the film tends to meander where it should be making more of this. There's too much repetition, especially when it comes to Laura's speculation about her brother's mental state. The narrative lacks confidence.

Complicating that narrative are two additional characters whom the siblings meet along the way - grumpy but wise older man Noel (John F Henry II) and psychology student Jimmy (Peter Mendoza) who, whilst he may genuinely be able to help them, comes across as rather more creepy than may have been intended, seeming to see Nathan as a curious object of study and a potential means through which to hit on Laura. Some critics have described her as difficult to like; many female viewers will wonder that she shows as much patience as she does.

Helping the film to make a positive impression despite these problems are the drawings, collages and animated sequences that take us inside Nathan's fantasy world. There's some beautifully crafted work on display here and it plays a key role in explicating the way that stories have provided the young man not only with a means of escape but also with ways of learning about and comprehending the wider world. This, in turn, presents him as a character with real world agency who, even if he can't solve all his own problems, may have a deeper understanding of some issues than his sister does. It makes an important contribution to redefining the presentation of adult characters with autism in cinema.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2018
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Nathan's Kingdom packshot
A young woman and her autistic older brother struggle to understand each other as she tries to cope with caring for him and he tries to solve their problems through fantasy.

Director: Olicer J Muñoz

Writer: Olicer J Muñoz

Starring: Madison Ford, Jacob Lince, Peter Mendoza, John F Henry II

Year: 2018

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: US


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