Sunday, July 25, 2010

Moving Pictures

I have never been much of a movie enthusiast, to say the least -- I might see 4 films in a year. Why? (I am asked this a lot here in Hollywood, with people's mouth agape in horror.) Beats me, really. Partly I prefer to read. And that is probably tied to my dislike for the emotional entanglement and the too visual environment of big screen films. I prefer to use my imagination, pace myself, skim when I need to, come back again when I want... I don't avoid hard topics when I read, but I do when I watch movies. I don't know how many times I've read (and wept through) The Diary of Anne Frank, but it took me several years to get myself to rent Schindler's List, and I made frequent use of my pause and fast forward buttons. I'm grateful to own the a copy of Anne Frank, but glad I've forgotten much of Schindler's List, which I never plan to see again.

I have read many books about autism. I confess that sometimes I've trudged and sometimes I've skimmed the most painful ones, and sometimes I've had to read through a curtain of tears. Since the Rooster's diagnosis, though, I have not watched any film depictions of autism. Of course, there aren't that many, but I've also been conscious of my choice.

My husband, on the other hand, has an entirely different relationship with film, and he works in the field. He has watched Apocalypse Now many times, and tried his best to foist it on me when we were dating, yet somehow we managed to stay together and get married anyway! He worked on the movie Saving Private Ryan, and he's hard to choke up in front of a screen. However, last week he came home from work not quite himself -- not quite as mellow and chill as is his natural, beautiful, even keel way. Of course, I probed. Turns out for work he'd needed to screen Rain Man a few times. "You know," he told me, "I could see some of our boy watching Dustin Hoffman, and it hurt to see." My husband is steeped in optimism, and he has tremendous faith in our boy and his potential. He said he didn't look at the movie and fear for Rooster that he might face the same particular set of challenges of the character or the real man who inspired the film. It's not about that, and it's not about judging the character or the movie's inspiration. Instead, he ached, I believe, for the realness of the story, and, he told me that he grieved, "for the what might have been, for anyone." Later that night, before bed, he brought it up again a different way. "Sometimes I think we forget that we always carry it with us, it's always there every day, you know? You think you aren't thinking about it and then you watch Rain Man and you find yourself shocked that you want to cry, but it's always a part of us underneath the surface." I guess that's why I don't watch many movies at all ... I have plenty of over-exuberant empathy in a day without adding that, I have too many things, not just autism, just beneath the surface that I carry with me. I'm glad J doesn't carry around as much as I do.

I think of Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List and Anne Frank as tragedies. I don't think that way of autism. I think of it as one kind of reality, which has countless different faces, different experiences. Would I eradicate autism if I could? I am sure some people will be offended if I say I would be okay with that. But autism, which really has been sucky in my overall experience, has undeniably given us gifts as well, and our boy is a joy to know, so I do not think of his autism as a tragedy.

Rain Man might just be a movie, but autism is a reality, and that's why I think J felt so moved.

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