I just had the privilege of watching “Snow Cake” with Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, and Carrie Ann Moss. It is a beautiful film, threading delicate connecting lines between a grieving Rickman and Weaver, who plays a woman with high functioning autism. Watching Weaver’s performance gave me the same rush as the first time I saw Jodie Foster in “Nell”. Her physicality is exquisite. Every gesture, sound, and choice brings her character to life.
I have been watching films about autism as research for an artistic venture I’m considering. So far I’ve watched Adam, Ben X, Snow Cake, and Mozart & The Whale. It is complex and I’m trying to wrap my head and heart around how someone with autism experiences the world.
There are many aspects of autism that seem counter-intuitive to the human experience of “neuro-typicals.” Social interactions can be intensely stressful. People with Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of high functioning autism) have difficulty reading the emotions, gestures, facial expressions of others. They take what you say literally. Can you imagine if the entire world was like that? It reminds me of the movie “The Invention of Lying.” With no grid for sorting out fact from fiction, the characters take your word as…. your word. No masks. No illusions. If you want someone with autism to understand what you mean, you have to be completely straight forward. I can’t say, “I’m fine” and expect someone with autism to see that I’m actually sad from my tone of voice or that I’m subtly withdrawing.
This clip from Invention of Lying is hilarious!!!
People with Asperger’s also blurt out exactly what they are thinking, without filters. Nevermind social appropriateness. It’s a startling reboot to the way we usually operate in life. Can you imagine saying aloud everything you think? I recently read a story about a girl with autism named Kim who is sensitive to loud noises. After a church service, a soloist asked Kim if she enjoyed the music. Kim, who is non-verbal, signed to her mother “It’s dumb.” Her mother then had a choice about whether to pass on the authentic message, or to sugar coat it, explain away, apologize, etc. Apparently, she didn’t try to placate the woman. She simply said, “It’s dumb.” Wow.
How many times a day do I avoid saying what I’m really thinking? I lie to people, because to do otherwise might reveal my judgments and prejudices. Or maybe I’m too cowardly to give someone honest feedback in love—I’d rather have him or her like me. Managing my image takes up a lot of time and energy. Other people also bear the cost of my dishonesty and this “split” self. One blunt, honest word has more potential to change a life than a thousand false flatteries… and a lot of the time, I care about saving my own precious skin more than I care about other people flourishing.
Sometimes I hide because it might reveal how much I care. I keep that under wraps because it feels too vulnerable to express forthrightly. It’s easier to feign indifference or detachment, especially if I’m afraid of being abandoned. Just yesterday, I was struggling to let a friend see my heart. The friend and I had hurt each other very badly and the pain was so intense I didn’t have words. I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to open the wound. And yet, to show the honest-to-God pain would’ve been an act of reconciliation and forgiveness. It would’ve been an offering of vulnerability that said, “This hurts so badly because you mean so much to me and I want our friendship to continue.”
I tried to find a way to express my emotions, but the only image that would come to mind was from another movie about autism:
In “Ben X” a teenage boy with autism is horribly bullied at school. In one awful scene, after being tormented by a gang of students, Ben stands alone, tense, rocking back and forth, inhaling quickly. He is staring out the window and cannot speak. He seems braced against the world. The torment, fear, and anguish bottle up until he simply breaks. Suddenly, he grabs a chair and hurls it through the window. Later, he is triggered again and goes ballistic, completely trashing his room, unable to verbalize his agony.
I wished for a moment that I could lose control like that, because I couldn’t think of another way to express the pain. To put a polite face on it seemed inauthentic. At the same time, I’m socialized to control my feelings and anger—to keep a lid on it. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have the social responsibility of being “normal,” or that my “normal” was so full of emotional cowardice and lies.
How would the world be if we had fewer filters? Leaving out the ones we use because we’re afraid of being rejected—keeping only the filters we have because we love others. With whom have you been inauthentic lately? What would you say, if you didn’t have to worry about being rejected? What have you been holding back? Leave a comment and let us know…