REVIEW: The Reason I Jump (Sundance 2020)
Based on the book written by Naoki Higashida, a 13-year-old boy with autism, Jerry Rothwell’s “The Reason I Jump” is a multilayered, immersive landscape into the lives of people living with a nonspeaking autistic condition. Narrated with passages from Higashida’s book, viewers are invited to follow the journey of a young boy, symbolic of the author himself, as he treks the open land and experiences a reality that is only unique to him. He ponders what his feelings mean, why he is the way he is and what affects him. Throughout the documentary, Rothwell introduces the stories of autistic people around the globe with their own expanding traits of humor, creativity and wander—but also the confusion, discomfort and difficulties that come along the way. The film is a wholesome voyage joining us all into understanding neurodiversity and the incredible boundaries it can break.
A peek into the lives of five young autistic people opens a world of experience that some don’t come to consider. Rothwell documents their realities and the social slopes that become slippery even for their caretakers. A boy in the UK sits on a swing set as the narrator describes what it’s like to try and distance yourself from reality, to take just a moment for yourself, and cover your ears from the noise. Jack Wensley’s sound editing lends itself to the singular experience they feel, for the next moment might not be so quiet.
A young woman in India has a flourishing creativity inside her. She paints and colors on many mediums, and soon, with the help of her family, sets up an entire art showing with her pieces. Her relationship with her mother is especially moving as they share a beautiful affection in the absence of words. Moreover in Africa, a young girl with autism is as playful as can be, but the traditional community at large may not always see that. What makes her her own person is seen as a precarious condition that brings ill will in the eyes of closemindedness. Her parents have tried to deflect the ugly prevalence of whispers for so long they decide to raise awareness and create a safe environment where others of the community can be themselves and start to be informed. In the States, two autistic adults bond like siblings, cherishing a friendship that has spanned their whole lives. They speak to each other, learn alongside one another and even perkily agitate the other. Like a lifelong friendship, they find ways to empower each other, speaking on their own keen level. It goes to show, they may not be audibly heard in some cases, but they are never void of language.
Even those with a nonspeaking autistic condition can be heard loud and clear in Rothwell’s film. He creates a fascinating space for the senses to run wild and free, giving voice to those living in their very real and bountiful reality. Although documenting the everyday existence of those nonspeaking, “The Reason I Jump” finds ways to embrace total neurodiversity through thoughtful and insightful technique. Though not adapted from the book for a narrative structure, the documentary is instead led by the very thoughts that compelled a young boy to write down his words. His writing is everlasting and poetic, lifting itself off the pages of the book and into the visual storytelling. It’s a comforting hand to the way Rothwell tells these stories and expands on the notion for how the world can understand our autistic community in unison.
Directed by: Jerry Rothwell