Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Review of "The Accountant" (Spoilers)

Last night Dave and I went to see The Accountant with Ben Affleck.  Affleck plays an autistic savant who works with criminal organizations to track down their money and also happens to be a highly-skilled martial artist/assassin.

Affleck did a good job of portraying someone with high functioning autism and the child actors did a great job at showing low functioning autism in the flashback scenes.  The film is a typical action movie set up, so those who enjoyed movies like John Wick and Taken will probably enjoy this one.

I didn't.  At least, not entirely.

What stopped me were two things:

1) Affleck's character's father turns down a place for his son at a facility dedicated to helping children with autism.  The facility is offering child-based behaviour therapy to teach the children to function within the neurotypical world.  The father insists that he won't have his son "coddled" and if he has sensory issues, then he should be exposed to bright lights and loud noises to build up his tolerance.  (This is a horrible, horrible idea and the equivalent of trying to build up someone's tolerance for torture.  It just does not work.)  The father also puts his children through martial arts training that would make Batman wince.  It's violent and abusive and made it hard for me to enjoy the rest.

The movie's implication is that the father's harsh treatment worked.  Affleck's character goes from very low functioning to high functioning, while the other children at the center become low functioning adults.  That just makes me cringe, especially with the implication that if people with disabilities and mental health issues aren't "coddled" by accommodations, they achieve more.

2) Both adults with autism are portrayed as savants.  Savants are actually quite rare in autism.  While kids may show expert levels of knowledge or skills, it's obsessive practice, not a superhuman ability.  Affleck's character is able to do things that people simply wouldn't be able to do, even with practice, making him a savant.  Perhaps it's my own cynicism, but I get a little tired of the superhero in disguise approach to special needs kids (they're psychic, they're savants, they're trapped behind an inability to communicate).  Most kids with autism do not have special skills to offset their difficult lives.

No one would suggest making a movie where someone who is paralyzed is refused a wheelchair by a parent and then goes on to both walk and become Superman.  I don't think it should be done with autism either.

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