Making a film about a person who is challenged in some way, be it mentally or physically, is always a tricky task. Good intentions of trying to raise awareness can sometimes come off as arrogance, self-righteousness, or simply a complete lack of understanding towards the subject. It doesn't help that the world at large tends to view people like this as handicapped (a term I loathe), and requiring of pity. As someone with Aspergers syndrome, this subject hits particularly close to home. When I hear people offer pity for the condition, or "hope for a cure," it comes off as unfathomably offensive. Understanding however is something that I welcome, and sometimes I will refer them to a film that shows what it's like to be an aspie (particularly since film is one of my "obsessive interests," a symptom of Aspergers). Of the films I've seen that deal with the condition, this one comes the closest to what it's like.
Perhaps I should address what Aspergers is for those who don't know. It's a form of high-functioning autism that, among other things, is characterized by obsessive interests, difficulty with expected social skills, and what some refer to as "sensory overload." Our lead for Ben X is a teenager with Aspergers. Ben has a stronger form of Aspergers, and is clearly not medicated. That's not information given in the film mind you, that's my own personal analysis of him as a character. I guess that's a good testament to the performance by newcomer Greg Timmermans that I was able to make that diagnosis in the 90 minute runtime, but it does also strike me as odd how whenever we see someone with any sort of mental condition in cinema, it's always to the extreme. Seems a bit unfair, and people with milder cases are far more common, but I guess that's where the market value lies.
The symptoms here may be presented in a more extreme manner, but they sure as hell are accurate. The film tries to make you see the world through Ben's eyes, and I think it succeeds. When he's uncomfortable, you're uncomfortable, and there are times when this movie is downright painful to watch. The film also makes clever use of editing to show the aspie way of viewing the world. When Ben's mom tells him "look at me!" he looks at her, but never makes eye contact, and instead through close-up shots we see his point of view noticing each strand of hair, each wrinkle, drops of sweat, noticing each individual detail of the face but not the face as a whole. Additionally Ben almost never talks throughout the course of the film, but his voice is still heard through an internal monologue that pervades throughout.
Ben is also an avid player of the online video game Archlord. This is more than merely a representation of his obsessive interest (or a cheap marketing gimmick from the creators of Archlord, which is a real game) it's actual integral to the narrative and style of the film. Throughout the film there will be quick cuts to clips from the game, relating what is happening in real life to something in the game. For example, if two bullies are assaulting Ben, there will be a cut showing his in-game character being attacked by orcs. Visually it's very intriguing, and it's also an interesting way of showing how someone with Aspergers will apply their interests to real life.
There are a lot of parts to this movie I'm very mixed on, and I still haven't come to my final conclusion of it. At times it feels like it's a pity piece, but then in the final act Ben takes matters into his own hands regarding his abusers in a manner that's actually empowering. However that is only confirmed by a twist that happens in the last 10 seconds of the movie, a twist that to me came off as confused and offensive. It also some times felt a bit too extreme, but at the same time that extremeness helped capture the feeling of helplessness as well as provide a distinct look and feel. The film flies by like a rollercoaster, and in the 90-minute runtime it's virtually impossible to get bored. Still, I'm not really sure I liked it, and there's a big part of me that actually hated it. At the same time, it's a visually fascinating filled with some creative editing and directing, and for the most part it really does manage to give a point-of-view look at the life of someone with Aspergers. It has its faults, and it can be very unpleasant, but I think it's an important film that's worth checking out.
Directed by: Nic Balthazar
Screenplay by: Nic Balthazar, adapted from his novel
Starring: Greg Timmermans, Laura Verlinden, Marijke Pinoy
Pros: A creative and gritty directing style, a usally effective look through the eyes of someone with Aspergers
Cons: Some parts go overboard in style or presentation of the material
Rated: Not Rated, contains mild language, brief moments of partial male nudity, and intense scenes of bullying
Should You See it?: Yes, but don't let it be your only source of knowledge on Aspergers