The Reason I Jump
2021, NR, 82 min. Directed by Jerry Rothwell.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 8, 2021
In 2007, Naoki Higashida, a nonspeaking 13-year-old Japanese boy on the autism spectrum, published The Reason I Jump, a book of questions and answers in which he attempts to explain to outsiders the different ways in which he experiences the world. The book was translated into English in 2013 by novelist David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) and his wife K.A. Yoshida, themselves the parents of an autistic son. Their translation of Higashida’s book achieved wide acclaim for the experiential window it provides into an autistic person’s interaction with the world. All the while, Higashida is careful to note that that his book reflects his personal record alone and that each person’s autism journey is individual. Yet the book is dotted with enough anecdotal descriptions to give neurotypical readers a good sense of what it’s like to be unable to give expression to one’s thoughts.
Now, the book has been made into a film by British filmmaker Jerry Rothwell. In The Reason I Jump, the filmmaker attempts to find visual corollaries for the nonspeaking autistic person’s involvement in the world. The immersive presentation sometimes illuminates the sensory experience for neurotypical viewers, but as often as not, the autistic person’s experience remains a bafflement. Rather than a mimetic demonstration of the autistic person’s contact with the world (which, I think, is this film’s aim), Rothwell humanizes the experience by his personal observation of several nonspeaking autistic teens from around the globe, as well as commentary from translator Mitchell, and other parents who fret about there being a place where their autistic children can fit into their communities and function once their parents are no longer alive to look after them.
The more documentary-like aspect of the film spends time with the teens in their home and community environments. Amrit is a young woman in India, whose skillful paintings are her communication outlet. In England, Joss leads his parents around to listen to the “music” he hears coming from public electrical boxes and substations. Emma and Ben in Illinois, are nonspeaking autistic teens who’ve been friends since childhood. We witness the breakthrough communication device of spelling boards which help the two express themselves, letter by letter, with their fingers. In Sierra Leone, Jestina, who is shunned by strangers who fear she is demonically possessed or otherwise deranged, is helped by her loving parents who organize a school where Jestina and others like her can be educated. Interspersed throughout these home visits are the wanderings of a young Japanese boy (Jim Fujiwara), a clear avatar for Higashida.
The Reason I Jump will be revelatory for viewers who know little about the subject, and affirmative for caregivers and parents of children on the autism spectrum. What everyone, however, can take away from the film is the knowledge that just because someone is unexpressive, it doesn’t mean they are without thoughts and ideas; and just because someone’s bodily motions may appear odd and eccentric, it doesn’t mean they are possessed or unmanageable. It means that people who are neurotypical need to make space in this world for autistic citizens, who should not be discriminated against for their behaviors (or lack thereof).
The Reason I Jump is available now as a virtual cinema release.