I can’t hate the gig economy, because I feel that my generation created it for reasons that go beyond capitalist imperatives. Hanging out recently at my 30thhigh school reunion, I sensed that many of my classmates are inveterate project-creators. Most of us don’t commit ourselves to a 40-year career in something; instead we dream of doing the next cool thing, even if it’s not particularly lucrative. So what does it mean to have a generation, and a next generation, of pipe dreams deferred? Well, I’m not going to figure that out during this blog post. I’m too busy thinking about my next project.
From now until election day, my spare time belongs to the Democratic Party. I have issues with them, but someone has to stop our government given over to GOP-led corruption and criminality. Being a starry-eyed dreamer, however, means envisioning the stars a month from now. And writing about it here…makes me have to follow up on it, you know what I mean?
What does this have to do with Dar? Well, only everything. Admitting this for the first time, but…(deep breath)…I thinkit’s maybe almost roughly potentially about that time to turn my life and Dar’s into a movie script, perhaps called AUTISM DAD or SEVERE or something else. They say write what you know. I’ve ignored that. I’ve written lots of non-biographical scripts; I always felt my life wasn’t interesting enough to justify a movie. And it wasn’t. Until now.
I watch a lot of TV shows and movies about people with autism. What’s missing is a story about a truly, truly hard case, a kid who’s not going to grow up and solve crimes like the lead character of The Accountant. As a TV show, the story would be a little dire and taxing on an audience’s patience. It needs to be an indie movie.
I picture the kid’s first ten years presented in the first ten minutes of the movie. Maybe even through ten birthdays. If they want to do something that’s never been done, they could cast ten different kids for each year. (Or more like five; a bushy-headed five-year-old could get a buzz cut and look a year older.) So the movie starts a little like Up. In those ten minutes I jam all of the greatest hits of this blog. The not crying or eating when he’s born. The cheerful first birthday. Optimistic doctors as the toddler rolls into the MRI machine. The heartbreak of the diagnosis. The reality that it’s a lifelong condition. The refusal to watch the tape of the first birthday. Snatches of cluelessness at birthday parties, IEP meetings, therapist ideas, mommy blogs, anti-vaxxers, well-meaning relatives, all of that. By minute ten, the kid should be ten years old.
I like the idea of dueling first-person perspectives. I think you lean hard into the kid’s perspective in the first 10-15 minutes of the film – like, it should be over-pixellated, with fractals and distortion, and some kind of humming noise. It should be effort for the kid to just perceive the world. This is where previous representations of autism have fallen short: really committing to the perspective of the severely autistic. If it wasn’t for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, I wouldn’t be sure this could work on film.
As with Diving Bell, though, eventually you need a break. When the dad’s perspective finally starts, you welcome it. I picture Dad’s POV to be a bit like Bogart’s POV in the first 20 minutes of Dark Passage. Eventually the film breaks from both and becomes more “normal,” motivated by a plot twist.
But I think the film really needs Dad’s literal perspective, because it’s not really worth it to me unless it breaks the mold of most films and shows about disability. Specifically, I’d want to explore Dad trying to institutionalize his son. And how conflicted he feels about “trying to get rid of him.” Not sure about this last one, but…a really one-of-a-kind film might explore a theme of physical harm?
Let me stop right here and say that my ideal script would NOT be taken directly from my life. I doubt that Hitchcock, Kubrick, Spielberg, Eastwood, Tarantino, and all the other directors who specialize(d) in onscreen violence were/are personally familiar with violent people. Their better films show the humanity behind the harm, show the reasons that good people are tempted to solve problems in bad ways. Not sure if you’ve seen Once Were Warriors. I wonder how difficult that indie film was to pitch. “It’s showingchaos in the home, it’s not approving of it!”
I think a strong indie film about an autistic kid might (might!) show the Dad literally twisting his kid’s arm (or wrist) to get him from, say, the car to a doctor’s appointment. Because if he doesn’t, the kid screams and refuses to go. In other words, it starts understandably enough. (I think the dueling first-person perspectives kind of help that.) But it’s not like the film would forgive the Dad for this. No, I would see it escalating to a point where, a few plot points later, Dad loses his wife and kids, including losing his second kid, who would be neuro-typical.
Again, this ain’t my life or anything close to it. This is meant to shine a light on an aspect of the disabled community that most films and blogs don’t dare discuss. But if, during the process, someone talks me out of the violence, I think the conflicting desires around institutionalization could be interesting and unique enough.
I think Act 3 of the film is from the neuro-typical kid’s perspective, which also happens to be a lot like the “universal” perspective of most narrative films. The film would have had scatters of this sibling’s POV prior to Act 3. So one third-act twist is that those previous “universal” POVs were actually this sibling’s. This sibling tells Dad that it’s just this sort of empathy he’s had forever, like he can almost see himself from the other side of the room. And…the sibling would help Dad to see beyond himself in Act 3. So Dad’s POV opens up, literally and spiritually. Dad realizes that he loves his son and will do anything not to lose him.
For a movie like this, for the role of the dad, it would be great to find the sort of star-actor who you’d almost never normally think of as a villain. Like, a Tom Hanks who is closer to my age. And actually, I have someone in mind. And further actually, I do have a connection to him. I’m Facebook friends with a friend of his. In college, I was in a few (theatrical) shows with someone who this star mentioned when he guested a certain recent podcast. It’s not a big connection, but it beats an anonymous query letter. I’m hoping for extra points for, uh, writing scripts for twenty years and not even attempting anything to check on this connection before. Maybe? Maybe this could be the project my life has been leading up to? Maybe it could help a lot of people?
Or maybe this will be one more pipe dream in a life full of them in a generation full of them. But…let’s stare at stars tonight.