January 18, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

‘The Reason I Jump’ review: Nonspeaking autism finds a voice

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

In 2007, a 13-year-old Japanese boy wrote a memoir called “The Reason I Jump.” Through this work, Naoki Higashida illuminated his experience of a world long thought to be inaccessible or even nonexistent — the interior thoughts of a person with nonspeaking autism.

Jerry Rothwell’s expressionistic documentary adaptation of the book blends narration from Higashida’s words with visual and aural interpretation and profiles of five young people and their families as they navigate autism. It’s a profound, immersive lesson in empathy that should resonate with anyone interested in neurodiversity or simply seeking a more inclusive society.

The families featured in the film live across four continents: We first meet Amrit, a young woman in Noida, India, who expresses herself through evocative drawings of what she sees. Joss is from Broadstairs, England, and likes bubbles, trampolining, water and bright lights (his parents, producers Jeremy Dear and Stevie Lee, initiated the project after reading Higashida’s book). Ben and Emma, hockey-playing best friends who met in preschool, have maintained an unspoken connection for 20 years in Arlington, Va.; and Jestina’s parents helped establish a school in Freetown, Sierra Leone, to empower families like theirs.

Despite some skepticism of its authenticity, Higashida’s book became a global bestseller following the 2013 publication of its English translation by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell (author of the novel “Cloud Atlas”), a couple whose son is autistic. Rothwell’s film transforms Higashida’s writing, which richly describes his sensorial experience, into a thoughtful context for the film’s subjects.

Sound designer Nick Ryan and cinematographer Ruben Woodin Dechamps create an enchanting audiovisual landscape — including interstitial shots of a young Japanese boy (Jim Fujiwara) at play, representing Higashida, who is now 25. The book and film suggest that a neurotypical mind will see and identify an object as a whole and only then notice the details; an autistic mind will first be drawn to the details, which can be both magical and overwhelming.

Especially poignant for any parent who worries about the future of a challenging child, “The Reason I Jump” beautifully blends the insights of Higashida’s writing with the external-world realities of these families. Most encouraging, perhaps, are the ways we appear to be moving away from stereotypes and embracing the idea that, as Mitchell says, these minds are as “curious, subtle and complex as any.”

‘The Reason I Jump’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: Available Jan. 8 in virtual cinemas, including Laemmle Theatres, and in limited release where theaters are open