REEL Review – The Reason I Jump (2020)

Director: Jerry Rothwell | 1h 22mins | Documentary

Based off of the memoir by Naoki Higashida, a non-speaking 13 year old autistic child, The Reason I Jump is an immersive documentary trying to bridge the gap between those struggling to understand the world around them and those unable to understand them.

The best documentaries out there are the ones that keep the interest of its viewer, regardless of whether they knew or cared about the subject before going in. Some experiment with scripted sequences also, blending a more cinematic look with the realistic style of documentary. The Reason I Jump takes this a step further by not only trying to understand it’s subjects, but by attempting to get the audience to experience a little of what they do everyday.

Taking the biographical account written by nonverbal autistic child Higashida and turning it into a film is no easy task, but director Rothwell achieves this brilliantly. When a documentary tries to somewhat experiment with its filmmaking techniques it can lose the grounded reality being discussed, but Rothwell finds the perfect balance between constructed fictionally elements and staying true to those it’s interviewing.

The cinematic version of The Reason I Jump differs from the novel by following a number of people suffering from autism around the world instead of focusing on one, less of a adaption of the book, the documentary takes the notions and ideas and expand upon them. It allows us to understand the depth of the spectrum better as everyone experiences it differently; Joss in the UK does speak, but to us it’s incoherent, another in the US – Ben – can signal which letters he is trying to use to spell out short sentences. Throughout extracts from the book are used as an abstract style of narration, emphasising different aspects of the condition, not losing the connection to the source.

How Rothwell experiments with getting us to understand their view of the world depends on who we are spending time with; if a parent is being interviewed in the kitchen and cuts to the child sat in the dining room, the interview becomes muffled. If he puts his hands over his ears, we lose the interview even further. Much of the film is attempting to illustrate the point that you can interview anyone but the only ones who can understand the situation they are in are the children themselves. Because of this there is little discussion and dissection through verbal analysis, less about professionals explaining and more about visually and audibly showing their experience.

Though we will never fully fathom how someone with this level of autism views the world The Reason I Jump attempts to understand this just a little.

Outside of attempting to understand the experience of nonverbal autism we see how each person is treated and acts differently, most effectively Jestina in Sierre Leone. For most of us watching, it’s likely we have a basic understanding of autism, but Jestina’s parents talk of how she is treated in their community, the education surrounding the condition isn’t good enough yet, threats to the family and calls to drop her in the river are common for them. It is incredibly upsetting, but they created their own small school for those in a similar situation to Jestina and her parents, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel for them.

Throughout the film everything is shot with a beautiful perception of sensory understanding; each person is broken up by a young autistic boy called Jim Fujiwara exploring the coast, many extreme close ups of him touching surfaces or the surfaces themselves, emphasising the colours and textures he is focusing on. It is a motif throughout, getting close enough for us to almost feel it.

Though we will never fully fathom how someone with this level of autism views the world The Reason I Jump attempts to understand this just a little, bridging the gap so we can somewhat help those struggling and – in Ben’s own words – change the conversation around autism by being part of the conversation. In doing this, Rothwell created a beautiful and empathetic documentary matching its visual and audible excellence with contemporary importance.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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