The Reason I Jump

The Reason I Jump ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Jerry Rothwell. Cast: Jim FujiwaraDavid MitchellJordan O’Donegan

Back in 2007 in Japan, Naoki Higashida, a boy of only 13 years old affected bt “non-verbal” autism, wrote an incredible book “The reason I jumped”. It was translated 5 years later into Englilsh and it was a real game changer.It revolutionised the preconceptions people had (and have) about autistic people, as not very bright, loners (“the truth is I love to be with other people” is one of the many quotes both in the book and the film) and crucially as incapable of emotions (“When I see the wreckage I make I just hate myself”). The book didn’t just five a voice to these people but actually gave us almost a special lens through which we could begin to see through their mind and change the conversation around autism: “By writing this book, I can explain in my own way what goes on in my mind” explains Naoki. The world of an autistic person can be chaotic but also visceral where things can explode any time and cause meltdown, panic attack… “like a tsunami”.“It’s as if my body belongs to someone else, as if it’s been controlled by a faulty robot”.Naoki’s writing is disarmingly honest and straight forward, with surprising glimpses of poetry as well as deep sadness and despair. The film attempts to visualise some of those words and thoughts from the book. Arguably that’s a very dangerous game to play and you can ask whether the director has the right to do so and whether his personal point of view and some of the generalisations he makes can distort the reality of it.

Having said all this, the filmmakers sensitivity is unquestionable here. The film doesn’t claim to be a comprehensive study on autism: there’s obviously a lot more to explore (The concept of autism as a spectrum for example, or talking about “routines”), but it is an affecting portrait nonetheless, made with respect, intelligence and a lot of emotions. Technically there are some beautiful sequences where all the tools of a film-makers are used to simulate the sensory experience of a non-verbal autistic person: games of lights, objects going in and out of focus as the soundtrack beautifully, seamlessly and skilfully mixes sound effect and music. On a film like this it’s easy to fall into the traps of feeling like you’re manipulating people’s emotions, but mostly director Jerry Rothwell knows when to step back, when and how to use Nainita Desai ’s powerful and tender music and, together with his editor David Charap, he knows when to cut away or how long to linger on things..

What the film does best is it humanises those words from the book by adding all these extra layers: not just sound and picture, but also the point of view of the parents and carers. In fact the pure documentary moments spent with these people are some of the most powerful in the film: there’s a moment where we stop and watch a mother breaking down in silence. It’s a quiet moment. with no artifices, nor poetry, no tricks and it works beautifully. The film tends to have some issue with pacing as it plays with the same tempo throughout and at times it feels slightly unfocused, but those are small quibbles.

It’s a well-intentioned documentary and a good first step in trying to understand and humanise autistic people not just as sad people but also full of joy too.

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