Friday, February 22, 2008

Mozart and the Whale: an Enjoyable Film about Adults on the Spectrum

Friday is a good day to write about movies as the weekend is generally a popular time to rent a video or visit one's local cinema. You may or may not have heard of Mozart and the Whale. It's an enjoyable and tolerable film (in its portrayal of autism) that came out in 2005. It stars the very cute Josh Hartnett and the lovely Radha Mitchell. The screenplay was written by Ronald Bass. Bass can be blamed or acclaimed for c0-writing the 1989 film Rain Main. He won an Oscar for that screenplay.

Mozart and the Whale didn't win an Oscar, nor was it nominated. However I think the autism community may find the 2005 film more tolerable than its predecessor. Both films are about adults with autism. Both feature savantism, which I believe is kind of rare in the autism community. I suppose Hollywood wouldn't accept autism without something fascinating like the impressive intellectual abilities of savants. Perhaps these films will be someday credited with paving the way for movies that deal with non-savant characters with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The biggest difference between the two films is that Rain Man is about two brothers (one on the spectrum and one not) while Mozart and the Whale features a romance between two individuals with ASD. Both main characters of the latter film are savants. Hartnett's Donald (the whale) is a math genius and Mitchell's Isabelle (Mozart) is a music and art wonder. Both Hartnett and Mitchell are believable in terms of their characters having ASD. They also bring likeable characters to the big screen. Hartnett has "the walk" and "the talk" down pat and Mitchell does an impressionable scene where her character has a meltdown in public.

The tagline for the movie is "They don't fit in. Except together." The two characters meet at a support group that Donald has organized. Of course, the major theme is the ups and downs Donald and Isabelle face as they attempt to form a lasting relationship. However, a viewer can also get a sense of the understanding each character has of the other because they can identify with their significant other's quirks.

What I liked most about the film was the support group scenes. There were some memorable characters in the group. One kept smiling even though someone she knew just died. Another female character bolted when ever sex was brought up. One of the guys who was rejected by Isabelle became jealous of Donald's romantic relationship with the beautiful woman.

Conflict within the group came up several times in the film. Sometimes the stimmming of one individual (watching a hand mixer whirl) would bother another person. One time the (sex-phobic) girl protested when one of the guys snatched the cookie she was staring at. It was interesting to see the organizer, Donald, settle these types of disputes in the group. If I remember correctly, he was mostly successful with his interventions.

It was also great to see how much these people cared for one another. When Isabelle went through a personal crisis, the group rallied around them. They especially supported Donald who was trying to help Isabelle without having a lot of success.

Anyway, the suggestion that people with ASD should have a support group of their own is a good one. Although I realize that individuals with autism should be included in society as a whole, I also think they should have the opportunity to be with people in a place where they are free to be themselves. I suspect individuals on the spectrum are probably most comfortable with those who identify with their condition.

Plenty of individuals with ASD can tolerate and even like being around the rest of us. However, I have seen the benefits of kids with autism being around others not unlike themselves at my son's summer arts and music camp. The kids relaxed and enjoyed themselves. I think adults would also appreciate such an opportunity.

Mozart and the Whale is rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. Indeed the language is frank and can make one feel uncomfortable. I would suggest the film be seen only by adults and older teenagers because of the strong sexual content. However, I'd definitely suggest this film despite the over emphasis on savantism and the frank sexual content. Hope you enjoy the film as much as I did.


Elissa - Managing Autism said...

I haven't seen the film, but I've heard lots of great things about it... thanks for a great review!

J said...

You are welcome. You'd probably like Mozart and the Whale, but make sure your kids are asleep before popping in the DVD!