LFF 2020: The Reason I Jump – Review

Release Date – 18th June 2021, Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 22 minutes, Director – Jerry Rothwell

Documentary, using the memoir of the same name, looking at the experiences of non-speaking autistic people around the world.

It would be very easy for me to simply quote masses of Jerry Rothwell’s The Reason I Jump – inspired by Naoki Higashida’s memoir of the same name – and simply say that I agree, and there’s likely to be some of this within this review. In many ways the film, which follows the experiences of a handful of non-speaking autistic people around the world, speaks for itself. Using the words of Higashida’s work throughout it attempts to put the viewer in the mind of these people, to understand what they think and feel on a regular basis. “One of the things I would love to do is to get inside his head, just for ten seconds, to understand what it’s like” says one of the parents of the documentary’s subjects. And, that’s exactly what this film does a more than perfect job of doing. Experiences and emotions that are so hard to describe are summed up and described with ease by the autistic writers’ thoughtful words – even more amazing that he was 13 at the time he wrote his memoir.

The brief passages that are read out (by Jordan O’Donegan, accompanied by Jim Fujiwara portraying Higashida exploring the world around him, mostly fields in the UK) are explored further by looking at a handful of non-speaking autistic subjects. Each one while complimenting the writers’ words having their own unique set of circumstances, thoughts and feelings. We spend time not just with the subjects but those around them, often their parents, as they describe how they have developed and helped the autistic people in their lives to develop. Various themes are covered in each segment, from the panic that can be experienced in everyday scenarios – “exactly what the next moment has in store never stops being a big, big worry” – escapes, communication and expressions of various kinds; yet all come under the core arc of the film, never diverting from it.

Through eloquence and kindness, both from the filmmakers and the figures featured in the film, the piece attempts to remove some of the social stigma around non-speaking autistic people. It does exactly what it sets out to do and puts the viewer in the minds of the people who are being shown and represented, given a larger voice to speak with, even if it’s through pointing at letters on a board. Through all these representations and the points that it explores it’s clear that this is a film that wants to promote kindness and acceptance. “Our friendship only requires some peace from the world” explains one subject of the film as it looks at a pair of almost lifelong autistic friends. There’s something about the sensitivity of the film and the way that it handles its subject matter that not only wins the viewer over and welcomes them in for the run-time, sometimes looking on in a sense of wonder.

Such themes, however, never feel exclusive. The film opens its ideas to everyone, offering an open hand to all viewers. It’s thanks to a positive outlook with spins of emotion as a number of personal thoughts and experiences are viewed and described. This might be a personal piece for everyone involved, yet it’s open enough to allow anyone to engage with it, to learn and empathise with the subject matter. It successfully puts you into the minds of non-speaking autistic people and allows Higashida’s powerful explanations and descriptions to lift the piece up, expertly get across what it’s like for the people the film follows and simply make things understandable. None of this is done in a way that makes it feel as if the film is preaching or shouting at the viewer it simply gently guides them through the points it makes and shows them another view of the world. It’s fantastically, accurately done and is a truly admirable effort of kind thoughtfulness and openness.

The Reason I Jump is a caringly open look into the world of non-speaking autistic people. Hagashida’s words are powerful and are backed up well by the subjects that the film follows, making for a kind, accurate, welcoming film that seems to want to advance understanding to help bring people together.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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