‘The Reason I Jump’ Review: Portraits of Autism

In the book “The Reason I Jump,” published in 2007, the author Naoki Higashida, who wrote it when he was 13, says he hopes to explain “what’s going on in the minds of people with autism.” Higashida, a nonspeaking autistic person, structures the book as a Q. and A., answering questions like, “How are you writing these sentences?” and “What are your thoughts on autism itself?”

The film adaptation, directed by Jerry Rothwell (the documentary about Greenpeace “How to Change the World”), is at once a supplement and an effort to find a cinematic analogue. Employing excerpts from Higashida’s writing as narration, it shares the stories of five nonspeaking autistic people on four continents, while intermittently using the tools of moviemaking to approximate sensory experiences similar to those discussed. The soundtrack emphasizes the creak of trampoline springs and the creeping footsteps of caterpillars.

The portraits are moving and informative. In India, Amrit’s astonishing drawings culminate in a gallery show. In Sierra Leone, Jestina faces a stigma against children unable to care for their aging parents. Ben and Emma, from Arlington, Va., forged a decades-spanning friendship that began in preschool, before either started communicating through a letter board.

As an aesthetic endeavor, though, “The Reason I Jump” is questionable, regardless of how much sensitivity the filmmakers took in their approach. It is presumptuous to assume a mere movie could simulate, even for an instant, the inner world of an autistic person. And at times — as when mystical choral music plays while Amrit draws — the filmmakers’ removed perspective is all too clear.

The Reason I Jump
Not rated. In English and Krio, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes. Watch through virtual cinemas.

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