X + Y – A film about – well quite a bit really…

I have attended and viewed this film twice now and I feel it appropriate as a Âû adult that I make some comments about it. Firstly a quick summary….

A distinctly Brittish portrayal of life for a family on the spectrum. A young boy diagnosed on the spectrum as a little boy. The boy loses his father in a tragic accident. The mother then goes on to raise him on her own. The boy shows, surprise surprise, excellence in Mathematics. The mother has him tutored in Mathematics by another gifted Mathematics protege who lives with Multiple Sclerosis. Predictably the mother and the tutor fall in love. The film traces the boys journey towards participation in the International Mathematical Olympiad and you see him go from live in England to a period of time at a Mathematics training camp in Taiwan and a friendship develop with a young Chinese girl he is paired up with during this time.

The film made quite an impact on me. In terms of the ending I am left with mixed feelings, I feel both satisfied and unsatisfied. Personally I was highly impacted emotionally and I can only think this is as much to do with my Autistic empathy coming in to play as I deeply felt the emotions being displayed by the characters on the screen.


The Key Players…

Nathan Ellis – The Autistic Boy

Julie Ellis – Nathan’s Mother

Michael Ellis – Nathan’s Father

Mr Humphries – The Teacher

Zhang Mei – The Chinese Girl

Luke – The other Autistic Boy.

Isaac – The Bully

xyThere is a lot to love about the film. A progression of Nathan, as he is able to speak a bit more and come out of himself a bit more, is interesting and thrilling to watch. I had some difficulty with some of the portrayal which I believe to be more about the script than the portrayal. There is a couple of moments of meltdown yet they are portrayed as such minor little incidents that they don’t do justice to the intense experience meltdown really is for the meltdowning person and those witnessing it.

Nathan’s character in the very earliest part of the film states that people think because I don’t talk much that I don’t have anything worthwhile to say (or words to that effect) This sets us up to love him I think, as he clearly is a very bright young man.

Nathan’s life is an English life with Mum and Dad and then tragedy strikes. Nathan and his Dad are travelling from home say good bye to Mum and head off in the car. At the first set of traffic lights, Dad takes off at the lights and a van speeds through the intersection the vehicles collide Nathan and his Dad’s vehicle rolls a few times. Michael (Nathan’s Dad) is killed instantly.

This is quite an ingenious move by the writer as it sets up a situation where Nathan’s world is able to be explored from a humanised rather than just behaviourised perspective. Throughout the film, Nathan remembers times with Dad. He remembers the times when Dad made him laugh at the local restaurant by putting chips up his nose and pretending to have a bleeding nose. Dad playing the train set. Dad and him writing prime numbers with the sparklers.

This is juxtaposed with Nathan’s Mother Julie who desperately wants to connect but does not seem to have access to his world. She is devastated to see Nathan holding his Dad’s hand. Throughout the film, she just wants to connect to him and for him to let her love him. For me, it showed how Michael was able to access it by getting alongside Nathan and just being with him and doing stuff with him.


The Ending…

The films end with a giving away nothing scene of Nathan and Zhang Mei on a train in England. Prior to this, we see Nathan and Julie make an emotional connection for him to take her hand, hug her and for tears to flow from his eyes.

The above scene occurs directly after Nathan bolts from the examination room at Cambridge rather than participate in what was his ultimate goal competing in the International Mathematical Olympiad. His bolting from this and leaving it behind is a response to his lost friendship and budding love interest of Zhang Mei.

I find myself conflicted by this ending. Partly it is just a typical ending of a movie to generate that happy ending I guess. But at a level I feel as though this is a response of the Autistic boy throwing off his autism and operating successfully as the neurotypical world would have him. It’s a bit more complex than that, and there are clear connection and understanding developed between Nathan and Julie and with Nathan and Zhang Mei. However, I feel as though this is in some way that Nathan’s neurodiversity could not be accommodated at an adequate level.

On another level of course, it is beautiful and wonderful to see Nathan respond to his mother and access those emotional responses. It had me sobbing in my seat. And yes to see Nathan chase after and get the girl is lovely too.

On yet another level is my desire that Nathan the strange quiet little Autistic boy could have beaten the odds, the doubters, the bullies and been the champion of the International Mathematical Olympiad. Perhaps that is just my autistic reality where that would have been a desirable outcome.

Overall the film is brilliant and for what I see as it’s small issues it overwhelmingly does a good job of presenting an Autistic young man as a real human person who hurts, struggles, laughs, succeeds and fails. So often autistic characters are presented as their behaviours rather than who they are, and this goes so much further than this in presenting some of the real internal dialogues that we as autistics have just like neurotypicals have.

I would highly recommend seeing this film.

A Warning…

The film opens with shots of Nathan’s eye. Quite close up. Personally I found this quite difficult and quite similar to my usual issues with eye contact. Be prepared to just look away for a few seconds I guess.