Film Reviews

The Reason I Jump Review: As poetic as it is important

Doc sensitvely conveys experiences of young people with autism

Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber


The Reason I Jump
(UK, 82 min.)
Dir. Jerry Rothwell

Inspired by the brilliant 2007 book The Reason I Jump: the Inner Voice of a Thirteen Year Boy with Autism by then-teenaged Japanese Naoki Higashida, Jerry Rothwell’s equally wonderful film goes about creating a series of autistic sensory experiences that mirror the memoirist’s prose. Even in 2021, it’s rare that documentaries are praised for their aesthetics as well as the choice of subject, but this one should be. Five contemporary stories are told: of the unique friendship between Ben and Emma, the athletic frustrated Joss, the artist Amrit and Jestina, whose need for the tools of expression is aided by her mother. Rothwell not only tells these diverse biographies but also renders each character’s autistic sensibilities cinematically.

Artist Amrit Khurana’s view of the world is compellingly represented through her drawings and paintings of people who look like Picasso figures in a comic book phantasmagoric universe. Ben and Emma, brought together by their parents as youngsters are now teenagers, communicating excellently with each other thanks to a linguistic leading block methodology effectively demonstrated by Rothwell. Perhaps most effectively, Joss’ perceptions are shown through cinematography, editing and sound mixing, tools that approximate his emotions and visual understanding.

Through editing, the way that an autistic personality absorbs the world—one by one rather than as a whole—is shown cinematically as objects are seen singularly, with appropriate sounds in effect per sequence. The director contrasts this intimate artistic sense with more conventionally shot scenes in which parents and caregivers fill in the backgrounds of each story. It’s here that one of the U.K.’s finest visionary novelists David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas), who translated Higashida’s memoir with his wife and co-wrote the script, is able to offer his perceptions on the language of autism and the nature of time. Here, too, we see the reactions of the world to the fierce advocacy of Jestina’s mother or the quieter activism of Ben and Emma’s families.

Winner of the Audience Award at Sundance and the Impact Award at the Vancouver Film Festival among a multitude of prizes and nominations last fall, The Reason I Jump is a poetically made documentary on a fascinating and important topic, autism. It’s an important film: stirring, lucid and progressive. It should be seen.

The Reason I Jump is now screening via virtual cinemas including Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Read more about the film in our interview with Jerry Rothwell and David Mitchell.