The Reason I Jump

*****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Reason I Jump
"This is a film that is all about connection, not just between parent and child but aiming to bridge the gap between the way those with nonspeaking autism perceive the world and the way that they, in turn, are perceived by the neurotypical." | Photo: Jerry Rothwell

"Can you imagine how your life would be, if you couldn't say what you wanted?"

It's a good question, posed by Japanese then-13-year-old Naoki Higashida, whose autism led him to experience exactly this in the first few years of his life. After the use of an alphabet grid opened a method of communication to the world, he wrote about his experiences of that feeling, along with a guide to how he perceives the world in his book, from which Jerry Rothwell takes the title of his engaging and eye-opening documentary. Rothwell, interweaves Higashida's insights - which the writer carefully notes are not intended to represent every autistic person's experience - with a portrait of others who have a complex form of the condition from countries across the globe.

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People on the autistic spectrum have been given an increasing voice in film in recent years, through the likes of Too Sane For This World and its follow-up Citizen Autistic and Icelandic film Seeing The Unseen. Perhaps inevitably, however, those who are nonverbal get less screen time and Rothwell does a lot to address this, blending evocative imagery drawn from Higashida's book, narrated by Jordan O'Donegan and shot with fluid grace by Ruben Woodin Dechamps, with first-person consideration of the challenges the film's participants and their families have faced as they've learned to better communicate with one another.

This is a film that is all about connection, not just between parent and child or teacher and pupil but aiming to bridge the gap between the way those with nonspeaking autism perceive the world and the way that they, in turn, are perceived by the neurotypical. As one contributor puts it, "Neurotypicals are rubbish at understanding anything that's not neurotypical."

Rothwell makes strides in changing that with this, which appropriately for a film about connection, is profoundly touching. He challenges received ideas as we are invited into, not just Higashida's world, but into the worlds of British teenager Joss - whose parents Jeremy Dear and Stevie Lee are the film's producers - twentysomething pals Emma and Ben, Indian artist Amrit and young Sierra Leonean Jestina.

Emma and Ben's friendship looks fun. They were friends even before they started using alphabet boards to communicate with their family members. Emma says Ben puts up with a lot, she loves her electronic Simon and techno music, "I'm very loud," she says. "Emma is my North Star. She is badass," says Ben in return. He's not wrong. She and Ben are also very smart, as we soon learn from their homework on Argentina. They're also aware of the time wasted by those who didn't recognise their abilities. "They denied our civil liberties," Ben says.

Jestina faces an even more challenging environment in Africa, where superstition means many autistic children are left to die by their parents, attitudes Jestina's dad Roland and mum Mary have made it their mission to change. Rothwell celebrates the unique 'way of perceiving' experienced by Higashida and the other participants - with often close-quarters impressionistic camerawork or the use of sound design that helps us to hear "the music" of the electrical "green boxes" Joss finds so fascinating. It's not just objects that are perceived differently, but time. Jeremy describes Joss' memory like "an out of control slide show", throwing up a memory that can feel just as immediate, for good or ill, as the first time the event happened. Rothwell also doesn't shy away from the challenges the families have faced and continue to face - the societal threat to Jestina, or the way that Joss can lash out through anxiety, while the director and his family help us understand just why he is experiencing that emotion.

"Have a nice trip through our world," Higashida writes. Not only is it a mind-expanding journey that crosses unexpected borders and charts territory many will not have realised existed, it invites us to take away empathy and understanding as a beautiful souvenir.

Reviewed on: 28 Dec 2020
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Based on the book by Naoki Higashida this immersive film explores the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people around the world.

Director: Jerry Rothwell

Writer: Naoki Higashida

Starring: Narrated by, Jordan O'Donegan

Year: 2020

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: US, UK


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