The movie version of “The Reason I Jump” often uses soundbite-friendly quotes from Higashida’s book as a conceptual clothesline in order to connect Higashida’s story with the experiences of five other autistic children, as well as their parents and David Mitchell, one of Higashida’s two translators (the other being K.A. Yoshida). Autistic children’s mundane experiences are too often reduced to sentimental, canned, and/or trite examples of how far neuro-atypical children and their loved ones have already come, and still hope to go. The movie version of “The Reason I Jump” does not, in other words, successfully illustrate what its title promises, but rather generalizes about a sensitive topic to the point of inadvertently making it seem more unapproachable.
Director Jerry Rothwell (“How to Change the World”) presents a distractingly aestheticized version of the sensory overload that autistic children experience. Amrit, from Noida, India, talks about how she sometimes has to “scan my memory to find an experience closest to what’s happening now” while producer Jeremy Dear, father to autistic teen Joss, likens his son’s thought process to “an out of control slide show.” Soon, voice actor Jordan O’Donegan reads a passage from Higashida’s book while Jim Fujiwara, a non-speaking Japanese-British autistic boy, explores a field of tall grass under an overcast sky. “Time is a continuous thing with no clear boundaries, which is why it’s so confusing,” O’Donegan, as Higashida, explains. Fujiwara stumbles upon a backhoe loader while unsettling ambient music plays.
O’Donegan continues: “Inside my head, there isn’t really such a big difference between what I was told just now and what I heard a long, long time ago.” We then jump to an anecdotal scene where Joss Dear panics in his family’s car while waiting for Jeremy to return with pizza. “There’s no more pizza” Joss inexplicably cries—we never know why he thinks this, but we do see Jeremy return with pizza and soda—while his mother, co-producer Stevie Lee, tries to calm down her son. These scenes encourage an immediate sort of sympathy, but ultimately only establish a superficial understanding of autistic children’s experiences.