Autism spectrum films that truly connect and show our thought process and world are rare. The movie X+Y or A Brilliant Young Mind was one of it, a British film which first premiered in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. It was inspired by the story of Daniel, a boy in the autism spectrum and a math genius.
Nathan Ellis (played by Asa Butterfield), a boy diagnosed with autism, is a mathematics genius. He grew up and lived with his mother after his father died in a car accident when he was still a very young kid. In many Western societies, being in the autism spectrum is something looked down on, usually viewed as “sick” people, and are bullied. It is common to be treated as less than human.
He was later accepted to join a math camp in Taiwan as a member of the U.K. team. There he was paired with Zhang Mei (played by Jo Yang), from team China. They spent time together and explored Taiwan during the 14-day camp other than studying mathematics. Unknown to himself, Nathan developed feelings for her, the ever patient Mei.
Later, they went back to the United Kingdom for the competition. It was then he started to realize that he feels differently when Mei is around. He found it hard to process. Emotions were virtually foreign to him. In the end, as they say, they lived happily ever after.
That is basically the summary. Let’s get on the review.
The film was superb and executed perfectly. As an aspie or autistic, it simply connects. I found myself in many instances of Nathan’s encounters and struggles. Moments when everything has to make sense or we will not do something you expect us to. Or, those times when we have to ask what people actually meant.
I like how the Chinese culture, and Asia-Pacific in general, was presented. In some Asia-Pacific nations, there are some families who do not hide their autistic children because they believe it brings bad luck otherwise. There simply is no shame in being autistic or have a family relative who is. In my country, sad it may be, we acquired the Western culture when it comes to mental and social differences (or “disability” if you prefer that term), although that has been changing for the past years.
There were also the struggles Nathan faces with his emotions, which is also true for most in the autism spectrum. We do have emotions, some of us learned how to process our feelings, some find it hard. It is just that we think logically, we prioritize it when understanding things. Like Nathan, we learn what it is.
Another thing often not depicted in other similar movies is how an autistic usually react with
what’s the point. I do not know how many times those words came out of my mouth which also made me weird in the eyes of neurotypicals. I am glad they included this in the film.
Overall, the acting of the actors were perfect, not exaggerated, not lacking, this is especially true for the newcomer Jo Yang which I think will become a famous actress soon. I am not sure if I have seen her in another film or TV series but for Asa Butterfield he was Ender Wiggin in Ender’s Game and Hugo Cabret in Hugo.
A must watch if you want to understand how we in the autism spectrum react to the environment around us. The lights, the crowd, the noise, why we keep to ourselves, why we appear to be shy when we probably are not; these are all important factors that shape our reaction at any given moment. Sensory overload, yes that is a thing for us autistics.
I give X+Y or A Brilliant Mind a ten out of ten stars.
A little trivia: did you know the street scenes were not scripted?