Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review of the movie Adam

Adam is a romantic comedy about a man with Asperger's syndrome.  While Adam, the protagonist of the film, accurately portrays Asperger's syndrome, the movie itself perpetuates negative stereotypes. This could be detrimental to individuals on the spectrum who choose to watch this movie. Stereotypes demonstrated in the film included: people with Aspergers’ being unlovable, people with Asperger's being incapable of loving another person, as well as a neurotypical (NT) supremacy on appropriate social interactions.   
   Asperger’s is defined as “a pervasive development disorder in which a child maintains adequate cognitive and language development but becomes severely impaired in social interactions. People with this disorder also develop restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities.” (Krauss, 2013, p.  ). Symptoms include: a “difficulty reading social cues, taking turns talking, unable to interpret language subtleties, avoid eye contact or stare, odd posture/ expressions, narrow set of interests, info dumps, sensitive to lights, sounds, strong flavors.” (Krauss 2013, p.  )
   Adam is a movie about a young man with Asperger's whose main caretaker, his father, dies. He meets a woman, Beth, who has moved into his building and they form a romantic relationship. The movie ends with them parting ways and him moving away to work for an astronomy lab and her sending him a children's book that she wrote called Adam.
   Interestingly the most accurate scenes portraying Adam's symptoms were those that were cut. The first scene, which was edited down, he had become obsessed with an untied shoelace on the person burying his father. This scene really spoke to the obsessive tendencies associated with Asperger's syndrome. He cannot just walk away from an untied shoelace, yet he does not know how to interact in a "socially appropriate" manner to tell the man that his shoelace is untied. Since he is at his Dad's funeral, his mind is clouded with trying to process and communicate the emotions that he is feeling. Consequently, all these emotions are displaced into a hyper focus on an untied shoelace. A large misconception about those on the autism spectrum (AS) is that they do not have feelings wherein they actually just don't know how to verbalize and express their feelings in ways that are understood by NTs.
   There is also a cut scene when his friend, Harlan, and him are talking about the interview process and Adam says “So, I have to imagine some fictional situation, put myself in it, make up an answer about what I would do but not actually what I would do but what I think the person interviewing me would want me to answer.” In that short diatribe Adam takes this cultural ritual of the hiring process and exposes it for the farce that it is. This is one of the most fabulous attributes of AS individuals. Their thinking points out valid questions such as: What are the purposes of all these cultural rituals? Why is honesty truly valued? What purpose does showing you can lie serve in your ability to perform well at work?
   The last scene that was cut from the film, that I find valuable, was after Adam's girlfriend, Beth, forces him to go to a party. During the party, he makes social errors that are considered rude in western society for which she then berates him for on their way home causing him to have an autistic fit and start stimming, a self-soothing repetitive movement, was exhibited as rocking back and forth. This display is fairly common for those with Asberger’s. I am sad that this part was left out because the only other fit that was left in the film shown to the public is when he finds out she lied to him about something and he starts thrashing around her place. It portrays him very violently. However, in the last piece of this scene which was cut from the film shown to the public she ends in cuddling him recognizing that she had hurt him greatly. This scene humanized Adam and shows that AS people do appreciate comfort from loved ones. The incongruence has more to do with the ability to communicate and understand language in the same way; neurotypical and neuroatypical individuals love as deeply. The scene that was included in the film shown to the public, which was deeply troubling, was when she tells him that she cannot go to California with him. She asks him why he wants her to go with him. He replies in typical Asperger fashion by talking about the functionality of relationships and she rejects him for it. He does not understand the rejection. He cannot understand that she is looking for words that glorify the relationship ritual because in his eyes, it is simple… she is a good mate. He finds her attractive. But she reads his reply in this conversation as him telling her that she is nothing special, just another person to help him cope with the world. This is despite the fact that he shows care for her needs by saying "I will be making plenty of money; you can just work on your writing". To him he sees the relationship as a mutual exchange between two people who find each other attractive. She sees relationships as a complicated ritual where the male courts the female and proves to her that he loves her above all else.
   Some of the other traits of Asperger’s that were portrayed through the movie include repetitive choices in clothing and food, over complexitizing menial tasks, memorization, compartmentalization of everything, avoiding social interactions, inability to deal with changes in routine, info dumps, inability to engage in appropriate greetings, mind-blindness, autistic fits and stimming, appearance of lack of emotions, inability to guess the emotions and wants of other people, inability to understand his impact on others, inability to get subtle sarcastic jokes.
   Therefore, the film portrays Asperger's syndrome fairly accurately, it also perpetuates negative stereotypes, which could be triggering or upsetting to individuals on the spectrum who choose to watch the movie or their loved ones. Unfortunately, this film could add to the perpetuation of ableism as opposed to minimizing it.

Adam. Dir. Max Mayer. Perf. Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne. Fox Searlight, 2009. DVD.
Krauss-Whitbourne, Susan; Halgin, Richard (2013). Abnormal Psychology: Clinical
Perspectives on Psychological Disorders, 7th Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

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