Artistic products are not only good for our souls. It also introduces us to worlds that we do not know. Movies about autism can teach us a lot. In fact, if you want to understand what autism is or what it’s like to have a family member with autism in your life, they are really impressive.
Autism-related films offer us different genres and the opportunity to recognize the worlds of autism and individuals with autism’s lives. Exclusion from society, suffering, and abandonment are recurrent themes. However, there is wisdom and optimism.
Now, in this article, I will mention some movies about one of the neuro-developmental disorders which are autism spectrum disorder.
Rain Man is one of the most famous and cult films made on autism spectrum disorder. The film, starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, talks about the relationship between Charlie, a man who lives life based on material pleasure, and his brother Raymond who is having autism.
In Los Angeles, Charlie who is a vagrant dreams of assuming that he will benefit from a 3 million dollar inheritance after his father’s death. His father, who left a 1949 Buick, left the whole fortune to his older brother Raymond, whom Charlie had not even been aware of. There is an important detail in there which is Raymond is a genius in need of care and has autism.
The materialist Charlie does not intend to give up at least some of the heritage. For this aim, he kidnaps Raymond from the clinic and resigns him to a nationwide trip. Along the way, he was infuriated because of the habits that made by his brother live difficulty. However, at the same time, he is also amazed by the superhuman ability of his brother with autism in mathematics and memory.
Eventually, Charlie tries to cheat at a casino in Las Vegas by taking advantage of his brother’s skilled talent. Along the way, Charlie finds not only Raymond but also a part of his past, and perhaps an opportunity to discover himself.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Gilbert leads a dull life which is trapped between his overweight mother and his brother with an autism spectrum disorder, without anything of his own. The boredom of his life does not fall for most of the time, because the life in the town he lives in goes through a uniformity free of all exceptions. The only action in his life takes place when his brother with autism, Arnie, does something without self-conscious.
One day, Gilbert meets Becky, who travels with her grandmother through the town, and all the balances in his life are turned upside down. He has been in love! But his responsibilities, which prevent his love from living to him such as taking care of his sister with autism, stand as an obstacle in order to achieve the happiness he is about to capture.
El Faro de Ias Orcas ( The Orcas Lighthouse)
Like many other films about autism spectrum disorder, the Orcas Lighthouse is based on a true story, tells the story of Lola. Lola is a brave mother who has traveled 14,000 kilometers to help her son Tristan. Tristan is a patient with autism and has a special connection to the Orca whales. That’s why his mother Lola takes his son in order to visit the Patagonia coast in Argentina.
They meet Beto, a park ranger who is not quite satisfied with this visit at the beginning. At the end of the movie, we see that Beto and Tristan share a similar special connection to animals, especially animals in Orcas.
This movie is based on a true story. This tragic-comic story cannot be put into any category. This film is about Molly, an individual with an autism spectrum disorder, and Buck, who has custody of his sister. Buck Mckay’s sister with autism, Molly, begins to live with her brother when the government-financed budget ends.
Doctors tell Buck that there is an experimental operation done with healthy brain cells can cure Molly, but it is very costly. Buck having trouble caring for his sister, allows the institute, which conducts research on the treatment of autism, to perform this surgery. Following Buck’s approval, Molly has a successful brain operation.
After the surgery, Molly begins to turn into a genius. Buck tries to socialize his sister. They go to activities such as theater and baseball games together. Molly starts to get close to another former autism patient. However, after several months, the autism of Molly’s brain re-emerges, as the brain begins to reject newly transplanted cells.
Mozart and the Whale
This film is about Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a different form of autism spectrum disorder. Donald is the protagonist of the movie. To support others, Donald decides to establish a group to reach out to people suffering from the same disorder which is Asperger’s syndrome.
Donald meets Isabelle in a group meeting. Soon after, he falls in love with Isabelle. In their first meeting, it will be revealed how different worlds they live in from the real world. They start a romantic relationship, but their lives are not very happy.
Donald’s story is based on real events and it is very interesting. His real-life counterpart, Jerry, discovered that he had Asperger’s syndrome after watching the Rain Man movie.
My Name is Khan
Rizvan Khan is an Indian Muslim with Asperger’s syndrome living in the Borivali area of Mumbai. Although he has a lot of problems with his peers, he has an extraordinary talent for mechanical tools. This talent helps him save his family from poverty.
He is married to an Indian widow, Mandira, and lives in San Francisco. When his father died, Khan went to the United States in order to live with his brother. After the events of 11 September, Rizwan is detained at Los Angeles airport due to suspicious behavior.
After the arrest, the therapist Radha, whom he met, helps him to get rid of his condition and his disorder. She helps him to overcome many obstacles in his life. Not only because of Asperger’s syndrome but also because he is a Muslim, Khan struggles with the problems of public rejection.
An Unexpected Friend
An Unexpected Friend is adapted from the book which is “a Friend Like Henry”. It is an English made movie. Autism-related films include almost always self-sacrificing parents. Here, Nicola’s endless endeavor for her son Kyle who has an autism spectrum disorder was too much for her. Stress is a huge burden on the shoulders and at the same time causes problems in marriage. Nicola’s only support is her family, especially her mother Pat.
One morning, they find a dog on the street where they live, and they take the dog with them to see how Kyle reacts to it. Kyle gives the dog the name of Thomas and a very special bond is formed between them. Unfortunately, Pat’s death is great devastation for Kyle, whose behavior has clearly changed and improved after the dog.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The film tells a vivacious life story with a heartbreaking side. The drama in the film focuses on Oskar Schnell, a 9-year-old child with an autism spectrum disorder. Oskar has a very close relationship with his father. His father always encourages him to communicate with other people. They play together and do research, aiming Oskar to gain certain abilities. Unfortunately, Oskar’s father dies in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and leaves Oscar with his depressed mother alone.
A year after his father’s death, Oskar finds a secret key in one of his father’s vases. This discovery, with other clues, takes him to New York in order to find the person who knows what the key is. Along the way, Oskar meets people who help him overcome obstacles such as getting on a bus and crossing a bridge. In this way, while he learns to deal with himself and his mother’s suffering, he also meets the aspects of the world he has lived in so far.
The film tells the drama of a family. Mother and father are dying and the only witness is their son. There is no clue, evidence or suspect. The witness is a 9-year-old child with autism spectrum disorder who has locked the memories of the brutal murder of his parents. He does not want to talk or just do not talk. When he talks, he makes strange and very surprising noises.
Everything changes suddenly until a determined and understanding child psychologist shows up. Occasionally, a doctor’s wife is involved too. In the end, you actually come across a surprise and find out why the killer did it. Actually, the drama part of the film starts from that point.
I am Sam
Sam Dawson is an individual with autism spectrum disorder who has a developmental problem in his brain but has children’s intelligence and is able to sustain his life until he is in his 40s. Despite all his mental barriers, he has a good social environment and a happy family. At the beginning of the film, the scenes of Sam’s work and private life explain the situation.
Then things get mixed up with Sam having a child. Sam’s first blow after this stage is that his wife leaves the child. Then, Sam makes a great effort to look after her baby and make her grow in the best possible way. Sam’s close friends also help him during this period.
There is an unpleasant event at the birthday party that Sam prepared for Lucy. As a result of the event, Lucy leaves from home and the government officials are involved. It is decided to take Lucy from Sam. After this stage, Sam starts a tough struggle to get his daughter back. And, that story is told in the movie.
The movie Ben X deals with adaptation problems with the environment of Ben who is an individual with an autism spectrum disorder. First of all, we watch the film in the eyes of Ben, who has autism. It is good because we do not try to understand autism, autism is trying to understand us.
Throughout the film, we see the challenges Ben experienced with normally developed people. Among these challenges, there are efforts to find an identity because of the difference between the family and the doctors. The only thing you think about while watching all this is how Ben prepares an end for himself. And the real surprise starts here. The film, which says goodbye to the audience with an impressive final scene.
Ben spends the most part of his day playing the game Archlord on the internet. In the game, he has a very strong and respected character. Unlike his charismatic and powerful character, Ben is a child who is constantly pushed out of school in real life. Ben’s biggest dream is to have a character in the game as in real life.
Living in his life with the dream of having a respected character in the same game, Ben meets in real life the girl he met in the game, Scarlite. He falls in love with that girl. From that point on, things will get different for Ben.
Autism: The Musical
It is a thoroughly engaging documentary about a musical theater program in Los Angeles for kids with an autism spectrum disorder. The documentary does not just focus on the kids and their work in the theater program but explores their relationships with their parents and siblings and those parents and siblings relationships with them and each other.
Five children with autism, who are Henry, Wyatt, Neal, Adam, and Lexi, will prepare a musical with the help of their teachers and their families in their schools. Henry chatters on about dinosaurs; Lexi sings beautifully and emotionally; Adam just wants to play his cello; Wyatt loves Harry Potter and telling a story, and Neal tries to communicate without getting frustrated.
The documentary focuses on everyday life and family life as well as what children do at school and draws attention to the importance of family support in autism.
The Black Balloon
The movie shows how difficult and frustrating the care of people with autism spectrum disorder is, and makes you feel as if whole difficulties are on your back. It is a movie captured by Elisa Down talks about the relationship between Thomas, his brother Charlie who has autism and his girlfriend Elissa.
For Thomas, all the challenges are overlapping. His mother is pregnant. He needs to help his brother with autism and support his mother and father. When he likes a girl in school, he will have to face the realities and responsibilities in his life.
The film’s director, Elissa Down, has also been included in the script. Because this film was her first film, but she had two autistic brothers and she mentioned her family based her experiences. The film is very well described as how self-sacrificing mothers are and how long it takes to deny this situation.
The scene of the black balloon, which gives the film its name, is a scene that you can miss with a little head movement. Charlie sees a bunch of red balloons flying to the sky while sitting on the floor in the garden and a single black balloon apart from that group. The fact that the black is separated from the group is related to the fact that this young person with autism cannot be gone out in public.
Zen’s a girl with an autism spectrum disorder. It has become a master fighter over the years due to the fact that the films she watches and her house is next to a martial school. The ability of a woman with autism to develop her martial arts has improved. What Zen does not know about is her mother’s connections to the mafia in her youth. In the film, she tries to get back the money that belongs to her family from the gang of ruthless gangsters.
The Horse Boy
It is a father-and-son story documented in Rupert Isaacson’s best-seller of the same name, follows a Texas couple who take their son with autism spectrum disorder on a horseback trip to Outer Mongolia seeking some kind of peace for him.
Rowan, the son with autism, frequently has screaming tantrums that can last hours, and he isn’t toilet trained. When Rowan’s parents discover that a neighbor’s horses are a calming influence, Isaacson is thrilled. A former horse trainer, Isaacson believes Rowan has inherited his love for the animals. By the time the travelers get to the land of the reindeer people to meet a powerful shaman, everyone is a bit weary. Yet the healing odyssey provides a powerful look at the complex condition of autism and family dedication.
One of the impressive aspects of the film is that it is about autism spectrum disorder and based on a real-life story. Professor Temple Grandin, who is told a part of her life in the film, is an important person who has done studies about autism and animal behavior. Although she had been diagnosed with autism when she is a child, this did not prevent her from living a successful life.
In the first scenes of the film, we find the opportunity to see the signs of autism through the relationship between Temple and his mother. Her mother takes Temple to a doctor because of her difficulties in social relations and not having the ability to talk until she is 4. And then Temple is diagnosed with autism. In the 1950s, since autism is not as well known as today, the physician describes this as a kind of childhood schizophrenia.
Mother Grandin is always supportive of her daughter. It allows her to continue her education as other children by saying that she is different from others, but that does not mean that she is broken. The high school science teacher notices Temple’s interest in science and tells her to see the obstacles she encounters as a door. Temple, who loves this teacher, cannot understand why she has to leave high school and go to university.
It is known that individuals with autism are overreacting to the change of routine they are accustomed to. We see examples of this symptom in Temple’s behavior. Temple starts at university unintentionally.
Individuals with autism can have a high sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Temple finds her own way in order to cope with situations that are disturbing her and to calm herself down. She makes an invention called the hugging machine. When she feels bad or under pressure, she enters into this machine and realizes that she is settling down when she presses herself.
Individuals with autism find it difficult to understand people’s feelings and facial expressions that represent their feelings. Temple cannot understand how both she and others look when they are happy. Her aunt helps her understand emotions by matching the photos she shows to various emotions.
Not being able to understand emotions and therefore not to establish appropriate relationships with people lead to having social interaction problems. This is one of the most important symptoms of autism. Temple likes to observe animals due to the fact that she finds people’s behavior and words meaningless. She develops a new system instead of the brutal methods used in cattle farms.
She is known for her articles on the behavior of animals. The interests of individuals with autism are usually concentrated in one area. Temple’s interest is to prepare cutting facilities for bovine animals in better conditions. This interest, combined with her visual ability, makes a significant contribution to science.
This film changes our point of view towards autism spectrum disorder and shows that everyone can do something with their differences. By describing herself as “I am not incomplete, I am different” Temple Grandin manages to turn autism into an advantage.
It is the story of a devoted father who tries to prepare his son for life until the last days of his life when his wife finds out that his child is autistic and who ends up her life with suicide. David was only 7 when his mother died. Now, at 22, he still does not seem to register that his mother is never coming home.
His father Sam works at an aquarium. With the help of their benevolent neighbors, David has managed to give his son a good life. But now Sam is dying, and soon David will be all alone. As his condition rapidly deteriorates, Sam attempts to provide David with the tools and lessons he will need to function independently in society.
The Story of Luke
The movie is about a young man who is grappling with autism spectrum disorder and the first steps toward independent living. Having long lived with his grandparents, Luke is abruptly placed with other relatives who do not exactly know what to do with him. Luke is set on a course of self-discovery that he has always been made to feel was beyond him. Luke is not defined by his place on the autism spectrum, rather he is a person on that spectrum, doing the best he can like anyone else.
A 12 years old boy who has an autism spectrum disorder and his older sister battle a Bengal tiger in a boarded up house as a massive hurricane blows into town, dashing any hope of a hasty escape. In the wake of her mother’s death, Kelly is forced to play the roles of sister and parent to her younger brother with autism, Tom.
Upon discovering that their step-father, the owner of a safari park, has raided her college savings to purchase a volatile Bengal tiger, Kelly realizes that her dreams of getting higher education are all but dashed. But just as Kelly begins to think that the worst is behind her, a powerful hurricane begins to batter their house with devastating winds. Even worse, her step-father’s tiger has escaped from its cage, and it has been quite a while since the formidable man-eater has had a proper meal.
Mary and Max
The stop motion animated film Mary and Max took exactly 13 months! Mary is a girl living in a small place with no friends. Max is a man with Asperger’s syndrome living in New York. The film begins with Mary writing a letter to Max after she sees the name of Max in a guide luckily. It is about the formation of a strong friendship between Mary and Max.
I rymden finns inga känslor (Simple Sam)
Simon’s older brother, Sam, with whom he communicates and is passionate, leaves home to live with his girlfriend, Frida, and Simon goes to space with the stove shuttle. The stove shuttle is, in fact, the special space Simon has taken to protect the orbit of the earth in the face of chaos. The only person who can communicate with Simon’s space is his brother Sam, so his family asks him for help.
This crisis is solved when Simon was teleported to Sam. In fact, the movie starts right at that moment. Simon uses a formula that he always does as he gets used to Frida. But this formula does not mean anything to Frida, who has no experience with Simon. Although Frida tries to make sense of her for Sam, she sooner or later gives up on it and leaves the house.
Simon, who could never tolerate the deterioration of the order, was unable to convince Frida to return to his brother in search of a beloved in his own way. Because the end of chaos depends on Simon reestablishing his equation. Simon, who directs his life with the equations he established in the light of scientific data, believes that an equation can be established for love. His conviction forces him to come out of the stove shuttle.
The film is able to transfer the perception of the life of an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome using the visual power of cinema. Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Simon plays realistic gestures and body language. Screen texts, diagrams, and details that reflect Simon’s behavior are other points that help us understand the world of the character.
In the film, the real name of the character is Murphy. But he is deaf and mute, that’s why he can only pronounce his name as Barfi. He lost his mother when he was a baby, and his father had just raised him. Shruti who is the only girl he feels in love with is pushed to marry a wealthy man by her parents.
To meet his father’s operating expenses, Barfi hopes for Jhilmil who has autism, the only person he has known since his childhood, who is unconditionally trusting. But he is accused of kidnapping Jhilmil and the police are on to him.
Taare Zameen Par
The movie starts with a scene in which teachers announce exam results in front of a nightmare-like background. This complex scene that starts suddenly ends up in the same way and introduces the audience to protagonist Ishaan. For more than 40 minutes, the camera has turned to İshaan. It gives the audience the opportunity to get to know him in every way. Thus, it keeps the audience free from the error of evaluating without knowledge of Ishaan’s life. During this time, we understand that Ishaan is a child with special needs from his words, dreams, or teacher control notebooks.
In the meantime, we understand what the problem is the fact that neither Ishaan’s teachers nor his family. Besides understanding, they do not even make a special effort to communicate with İshaan. This increases Ishaan’s loneliness. Nevertheless, for İshaan, being with his loved ones makes his loneliness somewhat tolerable. With a sudden decision taken by his father, he registered his son in boarding school in order to bring him to reason. The state of abstract loneliness experienced by Ishaan thus becomes concrete.
Ishaan is rapidly domesticated. The stablemen of the boarding school, namely their teachers, are able to create potatoes from a child in the trauma journey from hallucinations to crying seizures, from hallucinations to deep silences. At the end of this process, when Ishaan fully accepted the defeat, something suddenly changed the course of his life.
The boarding school, which promises to be demolished and even fulfills it to some extent, also provides the liberation of Ishaan and gives him Shankar Nikumbh. In fact, Nikumbh, who works with students in need of special education, is temporarily working in Ishaan school. He soon realizes that the real problem of Ishaan is autism and he takes a particular interest in him.
He informs his family and school administration about autism. He makes Ishaan feel that he is not alone in this world. Describes concrete examples of many successful people living his problems. It gives him the opportunity to heal his self-confidence with the painting, which is very talented. Nikumbh proves once again that every child is special.