X+Y full movie review - Are you gifted or just broken?
"It's all right being weird, as long as you're gifted. But if you're not gifted, then... That just leaves weird. Doesn't it?" - Luke
The movie delves into the childhood of the British prodigy, Nathan Ellis. A large part of the narrative is concerned with the boy's peculiar gift and obsession with mathematics, as well as his trials and tribulations with a high functioning form of autism known as Asperger's syndrome.
As the story unfolds we discover the more characteristic features of this condition. We learn, for example, how the young man cannot seem to reciprocate the emotional needs of others, in particular his mother. We learn of his tremendous inner turmoil with self-expression and his strong desire to disengage from those around him. Throughout the film, we begin to see why Nathan is perplexed and visibly tormented by his social experiences. As well as why he cannot seem to meet the expectations others have of him. Something crucial, it would appear, is missing. Something that makes Nathan seem slightly inhuman to those outside the spectrum. I found this aspect of the movie well-portrayed. It is a surprisingly realistic first glimpse into the autistic mind.
The second glimpse, which presents a more distorted picture, revolves around Nathan's brilliance in mathematics, and the redemptive value of that brilliance in the eyes of society. This theme of eccentric genius is carried throughout the protagonist's preschool and adolescent years.
As a precocious child, Nathan's talent is instantly recognized. Every character who interacts with him is compassionate and encouraging. Every opportunity is afforded to him. He is a star student given full reign to develop his potential. Notably, he enters a private school, a sanctuary of sorts, where he is freed from the need to interact with his peers. From here on he receives tutoring from a kindly, washed out mathematics professor. Clearly, Nathan is on the path to greatness. No matter what happens we are assured that he has a bright future ahead.
There is no real friction for Nathan beyond his "disability". No true obstacles between him and his passion for mathematics. It is within this perfected context of privilege and unwavering support that Nathan begins his preparations for the International Mathematics Olympiad. Following this line of development leads us onwards to China and the wonderful world of high stakes, academic testing, where Nathan must prove his exceptional cleverness to a group of neurotypicals.
The remainder of the film stumbles about in a series of attempts to celebrate and rescue Nathan. In many instances, the story aims to teach him how to earn the respect and esteem of his fellows, not through any inherent dignity, self-contentment, or peace of mind he might have in himself, but through his socially favorable, giftedness and exceptionality. In other cases, lessons in social graces are offered to remedy the behavior of our beleaguered prodigy. As one character tells him, "It's about adaptability". "Sometimes we have to change our shape so that we fit in." In still other cases, a more concerted effort is made to break through Nathan's cold exterior using a pretense of unconditional love and acceptance, as if pity were the appropriate response. And if even this fails, worry not, as we can surely count on the absolute weight of Nathan's unfathomable grief to lead him on the path to redemption and real true human feelings... **unspoken sarcasm**
The basic assumption, well-intentioned or not, common to all these therapeutic interventions is the idea that something is deeply wrong with Nathan, or more generally, everyone with an ASD diagnosis. Something so wrong, and morally abhorrent in fact, that it can only be made right with a devastating intellect, heart-to-heart relationship, or drastic alteration of the personality.
Yes, there are extreme cases of autism, and these do require special recognition, but it should be clear that these are perversions of the condition. They should hardly be thought of as normative. Scientifically, we know the prevalence of autistic traits to be several orders of magnitude higher than cerebral palsy, mental retardation, schizophrenia, or what are more typically viewed as significant developmental disorders. And this is precisely the issue. Severe conditions are always rare. Autism cannot be common to this extent and severe simultaneously. The only way this could be the case is if there were a profound evolutionary malfunction in our species, or a deep cultural pathology in our societies. Given the unlikelihood of the former, it only makes sense to believe a certain degree of autistic traits in the population is harmless, and perhaps even necessary or beneficial to human progress, that it is society itself that tends to cause the limit cases of disability.
One might wonder further why autism should produce any intellectual advantages whatsoever. That is, if it is strictly a disorder, as self- entitled experts keep saying, why would it produce any trade-off in emotional-social to intellectual-logical traits? And so as far as I can tell, there is no natural evidence to justify the classification of mild autism as a biological or psychological disturbance.
As Nathan clearly demonstrates, and as many others on the spectrum can attest, autism is only ever a problem for others. It is rarely a problem for those who understand their own personality.
On these issues, X+Y largely misses its mark. What autists need is genuine material security and educational support; not an ever growing banquet of platitudes and ego worshiping banalities. I know there are benevolent motives behind this production, but that does not discount the fact that the victimization of autism needs to stop. This is not something to be ashamed of. It is not for the individual to change. It is something that society should accept and adapt itself to.