I rarely talk about it here, but we watch autism-related movies and shows.
I often think about Dar’s brother, who I refer to here as R, and his relationship with Dar. I see how it is now, and I wonder how it will be when, in the course of normal events, Irena and I are dead and R has to manage Dar’s life by himself.
R and I recently watched Pixar’s new short cartoon Loop, which the company is promoting as their first to feature a non-verbal character. (Wasn’t the pre-Toy Story bendy lamp non-verbal? But I digress.) Actually I loved it. Just Marcus’s facial expressions in the first half of the cartoon looked so familiar to me. I make them, R makes them, and kids in “real life” make them when they hear Dar’s unintelligible noises. Dar hasn’t seen anyone in “real life” in a long time…even before the pandemic, now that he’s at a dedicated special-needs school, everyone is so nice and sweet. I appreciate that, I do, but there’s something about the reluctance and skepticism of a Marcus that feels so authentic to me.
And then there’s Renee’s perspective with the vague soft-focus haze on the edges: YES. I picture Dar picturing the world that way. Certainly, in ten years, he’s never shown that he’s noticed anything distant I’ve pointed out to him, from the moon to the Golden Gate Bridge.
From this interview, it seems like the filmmakers might have had a real autistic person doing Renee’s oddball vocalizations? Maybe. Not that big a deal to me either way. I agree that “nothing about us without us” is a laudable artistic strategy, although I also think privileged people can tell powerful stories about less-privileged people.
For a moment, I flashed on “Loop” heading into some “A Place in the Sun” territory. I think we can agree that Pixar wouldn’t go there. “A Place in the Sun” is not my favorite movie, but I think it successfully dares you, the ordinary person in the audience, to think: how far would I go to eliminate a person from dragging down my life?
I am thinking way too dark, because this leads me to the recently concluded HBO mini-series “I Know This Much is True.” The show is adapted from a novel about two twin brothers, one of whom is probably on the autism spectrum, although they wouldn’t have called it autism during the period of the story, which goes from the 50s to the early 90s. Mark Ruffalo is coming hard for that Emmy: he plays both twin brothers brilliantly, including putting on 30 pounds for the more disabled one. A solid review is here.
MAJOR SPOILERS if you haven’t seen the final episode. I’ll put them in italics so you can squeeze your eyes and avoid that part if you want to read just the non-spoiler part.
After seven months of fighting an institution, Dominic manages to get his disabled brother Thomas discharged and remanded into his care, and Thomas’s first choice of where to go is a (maybe) 40-foot waterfall behind their grandfather’s cemetery. They go there, and as they watch the falls Dominic says:
“You know, someone told me once that this – this river is life. And all it’s doing is flowing from the past into the future. And just passing us as it goes.”
Thomas wants to enter the river, but Dominic says it’s too cold, they’ll come back in summer and do that.
That night, Thomas sleeps at Dominic’s for the first time. And he escapes. And Dominic and the cops find his dead body in the falls.
This is after ample flashbacks to when Dominic and Thomas were kids, and we see Thomas “acting up,” and getting locked in his room.
All of this made my blood turn as cold as a winter river. Just…situating Dar is a constant, constant stressor. It’s like having an electric panel in your house that is sparking all the time, and you can’t do anything about it.
I Know This Much is True: My wife and I deserve Olympic gold medals just for the fact that in almost eleven years Dar hasn’t walked out of the house and into the street like Thomas on “I Know This Much is True.”
Where can Dar be? No, I mean where is he safe to be? If we’re with him in a room, it’s very, very hard to work. If we’re not with him, he may leave that part of the house much, much more wrecked than your kid would leave it. Think in terms of things that come out of a person’s body.
I’m sure someone reading this is thinking: just set aside a room in the house with nothing but plush furniture and plush toys and lock him in it. Well, right. But what kind of life is that? What kind of monsters would we be?
But then, isn’t that how we’re trying to leave it for R? When they’re both adults and we set Dar up in some institution? So why wait?
We’re in a loop. Pixar’s Marcus and Renee make it look like a nice loop. But it isn’t. We’re gonna get out of it without anyone falling into too much water, but it ain’t gonna be easy.
Right now I see America trying to decide how to confront two pandemics, one caused by coronavirus, the other caused by systemic racism. The problem is that “Easy Solutions” is not an option on the table. We have to make difficult choices; we have to sacrifice; some people will call it a “lose-lose.”
I understand all of that in my bones, because it’s already my situation with Dar and R. The good news in my case is that making hard choices in one area doesn’t make me less likely to make hard choices in another area. Bring on the battle. Bring on the hard. I’m already battle-hardened.
Let’s sacrifice and try to make the world better, easier for our kids. Heck, let’s do the right thing even if our descendants barely notice or remember. Let’s dare to be good, even if we don’t get a million followers.
I am so thrilled that HBO made “I Know This Much is True” (even though they never played the Spandau Ballet song). Because ordinary people like Dominic also need movies. I’m talking about people who don’t live in mansions or fight supervillains or what-have-you. My whole life, I’ve felt this strange cognitive dissonance where I want to be rich or famous, but I also have this overwhelming love for non-famous, ordinary people. I mean, sometimes I think I’ve done less than I might have just because I didn’t want to look like I was trying to seem “better” than “normal people.” I realize this sounds crazy, but…I Know This Much is True.