This month I review two excellent, and very different, films. Please keep supporting your local theaters, including the Denver Film Center, through their closures until we can once again sit in a theater and get lost in the beauty of film.
The Reason I Jump (2020)
An absolutely wonderful movie.
As a reviewer, I try to remain dispassionate and evaluate each film on its merits as I try to maintain a critical eye. Certain films, however, make that impossible and break through the critical wall, allowing you to feel its beauty and touch your humanity. The Reason I Jump, a feature documentary directed by Jerry Rothwell, is a “cinematic interpretation” of the book by Naoki Higashida. Higashida is a Japanese autistic person who wrote the book in 2007 after he learned how to use a computer. It is a first-person account of what it is like to be autistic and in his words, “live inside your own head.” This film of the same name is not necessarily an adaptation of the book, but an interpretation of it with voiceover narration from the book, stories from families around the word, and poetic visuals and music that take you inside the mind of Higashida and many other autistic people. It is remarkable.
The visuals, sometimes disjunctive, along with the sound, which is sometime discordant, start to make sense a bit into the movie once we realize what they are doing—they are attempting to place us in the mind of the autistic people we meet, based on descriptions from Higashida and others. We also see the very real experiences of the families with autistic children: how they are challenged, how they live, how they love, and how they rejoice. As one parent states: “My daughter taught me how to be a great father. She taught what it means to love.” Another parent, as his son plays inside a colorful maze, remarks “I could never feel the joy he is feeling right now.” It is moments like this, coupled with the astonishing visuals, that soak our emotions.
Higashida, at one point (through the narration), unlocks a remarkable idea: “I used to think that If I was cured of autism, I would jump at the chance. But now I realize that I would never want to change.” In the past, autism may have seemed like a curse to many, or as one family relates, “The village thought our daughter was touched by the devil.” The lives we see on film, however, tell a much different story. They are touched by something much more beautiful, much more love, and much more humanity than most us would ever comprehend. I comprehend a tiny bit more now and shall forever be grateful.
Now playing at the Sie Film Center’s Virtual Cinema.
You will like this film if you enjoyed The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, The Horse Boy, and/or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
Promising Young Woman (2020)
“It’s a sort of beautifully wrapped candy, and when you eat it you realize it’s poisonous.”
Such is how the film is described by star Carey Mulligan, and what an apt description it is. This fascinating and on-the-edge-of-your-seat mixed-genre movie will have you feeling comfortable and then extremely uncomfortable in turns, mostly the latter. Directed by first-time writer/director Emerald Fennell (Camilla Parker-Bowles in The Crown), the film premiered at Sundance to uneasy groans and positive reviews, and now you can add this reviewer into the positive category.
The story centers around Cassie (Carey Mulligan), a “promising young woman” whose life takes a turn after her friend Nina is raped and Cassie elects to drop out of medical school to care for her. While tending to her friend, Cassie develops a taste for revenge—in both general terms and later, very specific terms. The ending then shocks and surprises, even more so than the rest of the movie.
While the capable Mulligan’s acting steers the narrative, it is the steady hand of novice director Fennell that really drives the film. The color palette of the film is extremely expressive, providing a counterpoint to the events and highlighting a theme that is then reinforced by the narrative. The visuals, in other words, tell the story. It is a striking first effort by the experienced actor and writer/producer of Killing Eve Season Two (a great show in its own right). Fennell is a director to watch, and the film is skin-crawlingly good.
Available at streaming service.
You’ll enjoy this if you liked Killing Eve, Under the Skin, and/or The Neon Demon.
Vincent Piturro, PhD, is a Professor of Film and Media Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook and @VincentPiturro on Twitter.