LFF REVIEW- ‘The Reason I Jump’ (2020) is an Essential Documentary on Understanding Autism

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Utilises visuals and sound design with such creativity”

As someone who was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, I only know too well some of the ways autistic people view the world and the stigmas we face from society. Just like trying to understand any viewpoint from someone who is different to you, understanding autism can be difficult and requires a great deal of empathy to even begin understanding what being autistic means. The Reason I Jump is based off the book of the same name: a biography of Naoki Higashida, a thirteen-year-old nonverbal autistic person from Japan. This documentary narrates passages from the book as it lets us in on the lives of different nonverbal autistic people from around the world. Director Jerry Rothwell utilises visuals and sound design with such creativity that it lets the audience directly empathise with the cast.

Most of the film is broken up into segments that focus on a particular person: a young girl from India, a teen from England, two friends from the States and a girl from Sierra Leone. It makes for a nice structure as Amrit, a visual artist based in India, serves as an introduction to the audience on what being autistic is like from a sensory perspective and then each segment focuses on a different aspect: the challenges of anger and anxiety, friendships and the tools that can help, the stigma that still surrounds the subject. As well as the autistic people themselves, we see things from the perspectives of their parents, acting as another way for the audience to connect to the characters. It is really eye-opening and endearing to see the different parents open up about their original perception of their children and how they grew to learn from and understand them.

A young boy in a red jacket glances off screen, with towering wooden planks in the background.
Image courtesy of Vulcan Productions

The stories each segment and character tell are fascinating insights into their lives but it’s the cinematography and sound design that elevates the film into something special. Most autistic people have extreme sensory sensitivity so when a character focuses on a particular object, the camera will mirror their perception in an extreme close-up, letting us in on their viewpoint, and the editing snaps to different images as the characters focus their attention elsewhere. The sound design is exemplary: when a person covers their ears the sound becomes muffled, in busy locations the sound mix is overloaded with loud noises as autistic people find sounds over-bearing at times, when someone is focused on a particular sound so too will the film. The sound design and mixing show such attention to detail rarely seen in a film that it in turn helps us truly empathise with these characters.

Other details seen in the film include subtitles for when characters use letter boards- where an autistic person can point to letters on a small board to spell out words- to communicate to each other, as seen in the beautiful friendship between two nonverbal autistic people in the States. Rothwell and his team have put in the work and the detail to make the film as accessible as possible for non-autistic people to empathise with the characters. With the ability to emphasis with people most audiences seemingly couldn’t relate to, it makes the messaging more powerful: it can be difficult for nonverbal autistic people in our current society, but they are just like anyone else- intelligent, emotional individuals with character.

As someone who is autistic, it filled me with such joy (to the point of tears) to see a piece of moving image that takes the time and effort to get across the viewpoint of most autistic people; especially nonverbal individuals. The Reason I Jump has more creativity than most fiction films that are centred around autism, replicating the sensory overload autistic people live with through clever and detailed audio and visuals. Most importantly it shows that even without words we have so much to say.

Directed by: Jerry Rothwell  

Written by: Naoki Higashida (based on the book by)

Produced by: Jody Allen, Paul Allen, Rocky Collins, Lizzie Francke, Jannat Gargi, Ruth Johnston

Header image courtesy of Vulcan Productions