Films about Autism – Asperger’s Syndrome Movies

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Movies Featuring People with Autism

Films about autism can be a tricky subject, as Hollywood has a tendency to take any medical condition and play fast and loose with the facts. Luckily, the increasing number of children diagnosed with autism in recent years has led to a number of movies devoted to realistic and sensitive portrayals. In the following list, I’ve included features dealing with both autism and autism spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome. While these films may not be as light-hearted as the latest Jim Carrey comedy, they’re ultimately far more important.

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My Name is Khan (2010) – No other Bollywood film has done as well in international markets as My Name is Khan, the stirring tale of Mumbai native (Shahrukh Khan) with Asperger’s syndrome who moves to America, experiences prejudice in the wake of 9-11, and sets out to meet the President of the United States and announce that he’s not a terrorist. Asperger’s is portrayed with sensitivity, and a message of peace and tolerance runs throughout.

Mozart and the Whale (2005) – Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchell star as a couple who fall in love despite the challenges of Asperger’s syndrome. Loosely based on the relationship of a real-life couple, this romantic comedy-drama is frequently screened at autism conferences to demonstrate a realistic portrayal of life on the autism spectrum. Others have complained the film perpetuates the stereotype that those with autism all have some sort of savant ability. See it and judge for yourself.

The Horse Boy (2009) – When they find that their autistic son responds positively to contact with horses and other animals, the boy’s parents head to Mongolia to seek help from shamans. A fascinating documentary about how far parents will go to help their child, as well as a scenic look at Mongolia and other foreign lands.

Temple Grandin (2010) – Claire Danes stars as Temple Grandin, a real-life autistic woman who’s a best-selling author, college professor, and innovator in the livestock industry. The film has a light tone and is often played for laughs, which is unusual (and somewhat refreshing) given the subject matter. Co-starring Catherine O’Hara, David Strathairn, and Julia Ormond.

Adam (2009) – Hugh Dancy stars as an astronomy-loving Manhattan resident who has Asperger’s syndrome. When a cute teacher (Rose Byrne) moves into his apartment building, he resolves to win her friendship and possibly her heart. It’s not often you get to see a romance between someone who has Asperger syndrome and someone who doesn’t, so this touching comedy-drama is notably fresh. Co-starring Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving.

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The Black Balloon (2008) – Winner of a number of awards on the film festival circuit, this Australian and British co-production follows a teenage boy (Rhys Wakefield) as he enrolls in a new school and is put in charge of his autistic brother (Luke Ford) by his pregnant mother (Toni Collette). The initial frustrations of dealing with an autistic individual are detailed, as well as the rewards once this phase has been overcome. If you have a child with autism and one who doesn’t, this film would make an excellent teaching tool for the latter.

Mary and Max (2009) – Mixing black comedy with claymation, this Australian film tells of the developing friendship between two pen pals, a lonely 8-year-old from Australia (voice by Toni Collette) and an overweight New Yorker (Philip Seymour Hoffman) with Asperger syndrome. As the years pass and their relationship grows, Mary and Max comfort one another through a series of life challenges. Conditions such as obesity and depression are also touched upon with care.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993) – Johnny Depp stars as Gilbert Grape, a small-town resident with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Besides caring for his autistic brother (Leonardo DiCaprio in a critically-acclaimed role), Gilbert must serve as the breadwinner of the family and provide for his morbidly obese mother. Then he meets a young woman (Juliette Lewis) who’s stranded in his hometown following car trouble, and a romance begins to bloom. DiCaprio would receive his first Oscar nomination for the role.

Autism: The Musical (2007) – Over a six month period, five children with autism work on an original stage production while their supportive parents deal with the challenges faced by everyday life. The parents include a former Playboy Playmate and Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills, & Nash. The film was nominated for two Emmys (after being shown on HBO), as well as making the short list of the possible Oscar nominees for Best Documentary.

Normal People Scare Me (2006) – Joey Travolta (older brother of John Travolta) produced this award-winning documentary. The strength of the film comes from the numerous interviews (65 in all), including those with autism and their friends and family. An intimate portrait of what it’s like to have autism.

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That concludes our look at films about autism. Those who have a friend or loved one touched by the condition may find these movies to present an uplifting view of the challenges ahead, while those who know nothing about autism can learn some valuable and compassionate lessons.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 at 7:30 pm and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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