Making a dramatic feature about people who are autistic presents a steep challenge. How do you get an audience to connect with individuals whose defining trait is their inability to connect? “Rain Man
,” a popular entertainment that I take utterly seriously, was structured almost entirely around the dramatic conundrum posed by that question. Dustin Hoffman
’s Raymond was locked inside his head of numbers, his spasms of anxiety, the reflexive aphorisms (“I’m an excellent driver”) that defined his existence. The film never violated the self-contained unit that Raymond was. Yet it told the story of how he was, in the end, able to connect (sort of) without literally connecting. There was a beautiful conviction to that.
But in a context that isn’t so Hollywood, a movie that tries to deal honestly with far-end-of-the-spectrum autism faces a trap. If you make the characters “relatable,” you’re probably soft-pedaling the issue.