Tag Archive | aspergers

I Do Not Have a Spot, You Have Many Spots. Touched With Fire (2015)

When I watch a movie or listen to part of a song or performance or anything that hits me as incredibly beautiful, oftentimes I run over to the piano, skipping along hopping a foot into the air as I go. Or, like now, maybe 20 minutes into a movie I have to stop the film. That’s always step one. It’s like my brain is sending my nerves a brief flash of notification that something is coming. Then I get up, I have to do something, even if it’s just to move/dance to the background noise of the fans in my computer or the projector. It feels so big, bigger than myself and everything except the last time it happened, which was just as powerful. If it’s music I’m listening to that struck me I usually have to go play a song on guitar or sing or play piano. If it is something really meaningful, I end up writing feverishly. Like now.

I’m not bipolar. I’ve met and made friends with individuals who were, mostly in college. They were fascinating to be around. But I know I’m not on the same page as them. I’ve never been to a low that was so destructive I could not progress through it; at a trudging pace maybe, but I still keep moving. I have never been at a dead stop, where the ground completely falls beneath you and there is nothing but nothing, everywhere. I’ve looked over the edge, but have never ever come close to falling in.

I do, however, have Asperger’s, and through many hours of research I understand how this fits my situation and the experiences I have of nearly unbearable joy as well as sadness, which much of the time can be more closely labeled as confusion, or a feeling of powerlessness.

Both autism and bipolar disorder are neural situations, one is termed a disease (bipolar) hitting anywhere from early adolescence into adulthood, the other a neurological difference, (at least to many), present from an early age with a wide range of manifestations and points of diagnosis within the person’s lifetime. The entertaining things to me in the film which led to me having to pause involve the neurotypical’s reaction and rationalization of the mental illness they’re dealing with. Their looks and reactions suggest that they have a sense of something being present in the mind across from them that should not be there. There is a presence that should be sedated, ripped out, in order to return to normalcy. They themselves feel a confidence so strong it is imperceptible that they are at peace in the river of normalcy, flowing along with everything around them who is also mentally healthy. There are no ugly presences in their minds.

Before I go off and get away from the point, succinctly I am trying to write in this post that people feel that individuals like Luna and Carla’s characters are ill because of the presence of something that should not be there, while they themselves are free from this presence and all other bad things characterizing mental illness.

This is interesting to me because of the truth that I feel wholeheartedly that things are just the opposite in this respect, if we’re going to compare. And I will explain.

The mother and father’s characters’ responses in the film follow logical, conditioned processes. Something is wrong. Why is it wrong. What can I do to make it not wrong anymore. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? What can I do to make it go away?

In Luna’s case, stop working and paying bills, not on medication, let’s go to the hospital. In Carla’s case, at mother’s house at 4 in the morning, must not be able to sleep, let’s go to the doctor and get some answers. Similar processes occur when one runs out of toilet paper. Where is the toilet paper, my husband must have had beans last night, I must go to the store.

In these examples, there is a presence of method to handle the situation that is continuously conditioned over and over again until it becomes so much of a habit you can’t even tell you’re in the midst of it again and again. These processes are pretty easy to understand. They make logical sense and most people are comfortable with the standard line of reasoning demonstrated. It applies to many situations.

What is invisible because it is so habitual is that this very process common to most people is a presence of knowledge, which is substantive, learned, ingrained, and part of our neural net even long before adulthood, in most neurotypicals. The simplest form of the process is learned early on, people add on additional sets of hangers-on to the stream of logic. When we think of going to the store for toilet paper, we have the knowledge of where we’ve gone to get it before, how much it costs, if that annoying cashier would be working, what our friend said about the store the other day, etc. Some of these bits of knowledge are subjective based on personal experience, others are based on what we are told by other people and how we choose to feel about them. Obviously buying toilet paper does not carry much social weight, but in the case of dealing with mental illness, as demonstrated in the film, there are social neuronets so complex and yet so ingrained that most people believe them to be as grounded as logic or common sense. Something is wrong, you go to the doctor to get it fixed: of course, no brainer, done deal. And most people seem to stop there. Their neuronet stops and they have never been challenged in any way to deal with any alternative or other possibility. They don’t have to. “Other people said this about it, and I believe them because it’s the easiest option.” And why do they choose the easiest and most acceptable path? Fear of their social appearance in a lot of cases probably. Also, it’s just, well, easier. And we humans like easier.

But here’s my biggest rub with the logic expressed through the parent characters in the film: it’s this whole illness is a presence I am free of mentality. On the contrary, these ill people are absent of, and what’s more, broken free of, the fear of venturing outside of the norm that is so potent in the neurotypical parents that their cozy boxed lives do not even have windows. They have posters of Costa Rica where the windows used to be, now covered.

Luna is living free of the fear of what may happen if he doesn’t follow the rules. His father is consumed by it.

Carla is free of the assumption that doing something like going out in the middle of the night is “not normal” while her mother is so shocked by this simple oddity that she makes it into a sign of something being seriously wrong.

I’m not trying to prove what’s right, who’s sick, who’s not etc. I’m just really fixated on the idea of presence and absence and which applies to mental illness versus normalcy. If lunacy is freedom from fear of the things they should be afraid of, like someone walking along a tightrope hundreds of feet in the air, then he is free of a presence which resides in most other human beings. What’s more, those mentally ill people cannot even fathom having this presence that alludes them and makes everyone else “normal,” and this drives them further into depression, confusion, etc. Carla’s character goes into manic mode because she so wants to figure out exactly what she was doing exactly when “it” happened. At some point this “thing” infested her body and now she must be rid of it.

Luna is a little more confident in his state of mental being, at least thus far in the film.

At the point where I paused the film he is talking to another guy in therapy at the hospital. The old guy is terrified of the apocalypse, of humankind ending. Luna looks at him and tries to explain to him that there is no reason to be afraid. He basically tells him it is going to happen whether you are afraid or not, therefore there is no reason to be afraid. I don’t know about you but that’s about the smartest and most logical thing I’ve heard from anyone in the movie so far. Lol But again, he is absent of the fear. There is no malicious presence, simply the absence of an aspect of his being that would make him acceptable and normal to everyone else.

But I think all of this resonated personally with me because of how strongly I feel  that the way people treat me or talk to me or look at me once I tell them I have autism suggests that they see that presence, that neon sign that says “I’m abnormal.” It’s like suddenly they see into my brain and see the spot that says “autism” on it. (Or worse, they look at me like I’m crazy because I don’t fit the paradigm of what autism is that they’ve come to accept). A presence. Something there that should not be there. Something they do not have. Something that makes me abnormal.

But I feel the complete opposite to this. My whole life I’ve experienced the absence in me of something which others around me have. Things that others learned early in life which have become natural and worn like a badge that says, “yep I’m human just like you.” These things are so simple that most people I try to explain it to don’t even seem to hear me. Things like what angle to hold your head while someone is greeting you so that you look polite, interested, not flirting though, not bored, not dumb, present, ready to respond… Greetings and goodbyes are inexplicably and ridiculously difficult for me. Whether or not I come off successful, I feel so incomprehensibly silly doing stuff like that. Hi nice to meet you, oh my gosh I know the traffic was just awful, how was your ride? I love your hair today, aren’t you glad it’s nice outside…Inside I’m just thinking, what the fuck...

Absence. Not a presence. An Absence. Something You Have That I Do Not. I do not have a spot, you have many spots. Some of them I wish I had. Some I’m glad I do not. Some I will never understand.

Ok, I’m going to finish the movie now then maybe start this blog post. lol

 

Spoilers

 

Ahhhhhh…, artistic genius in connection with bipolar disorder. I guess I saw this coming, lol. Luna declares to the others around him drawing pictures that Van Gogh’s Starry Night was created as what he saw from the window of his room in a sanitarium while he was manic. I don’t know if it’s true. (Luna challenges you to go “look it up.”)

The film is focused on the book Touched with Fire by Kay Jamison. Luna believes that the depth of emotion he feels is not an illness, but something he would like to hold on to. Carla feels the same until everything changes.

She becomes pregnant. Suddenly there is more to her life than feeling and being present. She must make changes to accommodate the responsibilities of being a parent, and she believes Luna when he commits to the same.

Luna and Carla make a connection with each other in their mania while in a hospital. Each night at 3 am they meet in the art room of the hospital and come up with a grand plan to return to their home, the moon. When they start disobeying the rules, their parents and doctors begin to intrude on their lives in a strong way, terrified that they indeed feed each others’ illnesses. This is an interesting tension and discussion of that question: Are they absolutely wrong for each other, or are they absolutely right for each other? Both points of view are argued and it is left for the viewer to decide for themselves.

The path of the film’s story does not change that. Ultimately it is up in the air as to whether you side with those who believe the illness to be a terrible tragedy or a gift. Obviously when a state of mind brings one to destructive behavior threatening other peoples’ lives, there is a problem and more to be observed than artistic acumen. But even this scenario, in which Luna drives his car carrying his love Carla into the river, we are left with nothing but grey area and perspectives flying in different directions. Would the existence of Starry Night be worth it if Van Gogh had had an episode where he’d almost killed someone? (Or maybe he did, I don’t know. How can anyone know for sure.)

Then the film gets incredibly medication-centered. At first I was disappointed by this, but then I understood how important of a part medication plays in not only the patients’ own lives, but in forming opinions of society based on correlative data.

I’m not a doctor, but I do have strong opinions about the use of medication in various types of “mental illnesses.”

Having experienced this firsthand, I felt an unbelievable wave of empathy when Luna made statements about feeling nothing inside and hating it, wanting the mania back, preferring the highs and lows. He also complains that he does not feel the emotion he should feel for the person he loves more than anything in the world. Doctors explain that he must get used to a “normal range of emotion.” What a depressing, grey statement. I remember detesting the way anti-depressants made me feel. I wasn’t on them long. And while people kept telling me I had to keep at it to find the balance that would make me feel good, I refused to deal with not wanting to make music, write, or getting excited about anything.

(Tangent) My life has always presented a steady influx of obsessions that are all-consuming, work their way through me as I work my way and absorb everything it has to offer, then it tapers off before something else strikes me. None of these obsessions are ever discarded, and I think this is a gross misunderstanding in a lot of people, at least when I discuss it. On the surface it seems like I am just getting engrossed and investing everything into something then suddenly discarding it. This isn’t true at all. I’ve internalized very deeply the things I take in out of passion and inspiration. They are always with me, and they build upon each other, making connections. I remember very clearly being on one of these drugs and knowing for a fact that I would take depression over feeling nothing any day. I think anyone who has ever been touched by fire would understand this sentiment from Luna. (End Tangent)

Carla ends up following a different route, taking her medication long term, and in the end the two do not stay together. They have one final meeting for a reading of a book composed of their verses together, and it is evident that Luna has remained the same as he’s always been, while Carla has “moved on” with another man and on her medication. She has chosen to steady herself. Luna’s eyes speak to the heartbreak he feels when he realizes this, while Carla’s remain sober, even cold.

I liked this film because it struck a chord with me in that it tries to demonstrate what it’s like to feel deeply, the good side and the bad side. There are similarities between bipolar as conveyed in this movie and the things I’ve studied and experienced through autism. So many times I’ve heard it said that people on the spectrum experience life like a child for their whole lives, they retain a sense of wonder about the world and an appreciation for the most minute details in life that others may miss. I think that this sense of child-like wonder is essential for creativity. I can’t imagine cranking out a piece of work that has not blossomed from any kind of inspiration on the part of the artist. (Or I should say, a piece of work that has anything meaningful to offer on a human level. Obviously there is a lot of “art” getting cranked out according to the algorithm of commercial demand.) So is there any mystery in the fact that so many artists and inventors are considered posthumously to have probably been autistic or bipolar, or whatever we choose to call all of the maladjusted forms of nonconformity? And the fascinating question is, is this part and function of our brain, this capacity for greatness and genius in creativity, available and waiting to be unlocked within all human beings? It seems perfectly reasonable to me, given what little I know about the discoveries of neuroscience connected with neuroplasticity as well as the possibilities laid out by the implications of quantum mechanics, if we dare to venture into it without safety nets. But this post is long enough I suppose, lol. Another day.

 

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Hidden Gems

Happiness (1997) came out of left field at me while trying to find a certain type of rare movie. There is a combination of shocked, disturbed, and enlightened effects that create for me an experience that sticks and tends to essentially raise the bar for future films that might be aspiring toward the same thing. I’ve been through the lists of “most disturbing movies ever made.” I found some gems, but mostly I found movies with the most blood fests. A lot I was already familiar with. A lot of people thought Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009) was the most disturbing movie, other lists went straight to stuff like Hostel (2005) and The Last House on the Left (1972), Human Centipede (2009). Most of these, in my opinion, do not belong on the same list because they are incredibly different from each other, but I guess everyone has a different idea of how to measure such words as “disturbing.” I don’t even think this is the correct word to use, now that I’ve looked up exact definitions.

Being “disturbed” alludes to worry and anxiety. If something is disturbing, it causes anxiety and makes the person worry. This means that the word disturbing is most aptly assigned to the strict horror and suspense films. At the moment when you see the shady neighbor see Jimmy Stewart watching him through the window, you feel the anxiety and worry as you wait for him to arrive at the helpless, wheelchair-bound Jeff’s apartment, helpless to defend himself (Rear Window (1954)), and when something makes a noise in the attic and the stupid teenage protagonists decide they should go check it out, you feel the anxiety in the anticipation of finding out what is up there. The lists of top ten most “disturbing” movies of all time which include gore fest-type movies is therefore misleading, (at least to an Aspie nerd who finds semantics interesting). So what is the adjective we’re looking for to describe movies on the top of these lists? Well, first let’s decide what movies belong there; after all in blog world everyone gets to decide what is “correct.” =)

Personally, I don’t care about how crazy the gore is, but I’m not impressed by it unless it has a purpose. Similarly for violence in general. I don’t particularly go out of my way to watch something with tons of bloody violence in it. I don’t just love to watch blood poor out of people. Which is why it takes a long time for me to root out what I’m looking for, because the term disturbing does not identify it, though I have only been able to find gems under this particular heading. As mentioned before, Antichrist (2009) is on a lot of “disturbing” lists. For sure, the themes are challenging as well as the graphic depictions. What I love about this film is how these visuals make a statement for the viewer to grapple with. The role of femininity, the divided historical perspectives of woman as evil, woman as nature, or woman as nurturer, etc. The explicitness of the content is not just exploitative. But again, “anxiety” or “worry” are misplaced adjectives to describe such effects of a film like Antichrist.

Alright, so I have a feel for the general ingredients I look for in a movie. It is not to be found in the popular, mainstream for sure. These films tend to be controversial, and a lot of people have incredibly deep negative, (or positive for that matter), feelings about these films.

So “controversial” is much closer than “disturbing” for sure. So what do we get when we google for lists of most “controversial” films of all time…

This is the first list I found, http://time.com/3637680/most-controversial-films. After looking through several others’ top 10 to 25, there are definitely cross-overs and similarities, but I think there’s a marked difference between a film’s effect being “disturbing” versus its content being “controversial.” Being disturbed is a very deep-down, visceral experience that feels more like a gut reaction, while coming to the conclusion that a film’s subject matter is controversial implies a process of thought. There is a time, however brief, where the film’s content is measured against what you believe is correct or moral, and if there is too big a discrepancy, then people will “talk” in certain terms, and sometimes fiery terms, about the film, thus earning it a description in history as one of the most controversial films of all time. The platform upon which all other films deemed controversial stands would have to be Birth of a Nation (1915). A few of the cross-overs include The Exorcist (1973), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), I Spit on Your Grave (1978), Freaks (1932), Irreversible (2002), and Salo (1975); all disturbing, (if you count nausea as anxiety), and controversial for its content, either at the time of the film’s release or after the passing of time and changes in social consciousness.

 

There is one crossover that I would like to highlight as a bridge toward the clearing where hopefully I will find the perfect words of description for what I am hungry for in film all the time. This film is Pascal Laugier’s 2008 film Martyrs.

Spoilers

Martyrs is said to be a difficult film to watch. The abuse is shown most evocatively in the wounds on the girls’ bodies. This accounts for most of the film’s “disturbing” status, as well as it’s controversy, simply regarding the content of child abuse, though there is no rape involved. The first victim of abuse is shown running down the street escaping her captors. Her name is Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi), and later she takes her revenge on the people who are responsible for her pain and subsequent life-long struggle with paranoia and hallucinations. After escaping as a little girl, she is placed in an orphanage and finds one kind soul who becomes her one and only friend throughout her life. Her name is Anna (Morjana Alaoui). There is a time gap jump between the two of them as friends as little girls and 15 years later, when Anna receives a call from Lucie, who calls from the home of her murdered captors from long ago. “I did what I had to” she says. Anna immediately comes running to her side. Everything about her actions are selfless, she is in love with Lucie, though Lucie has way too much damage emotionally to really process that kind of feeling. Instead Lucie is haunted constantly by her experience as a child and by the hallucination of a creature that appears to be the scarred, barely human remains of a girl her age, tortured beyond recognition. To me she reminds of a “Grudge” type ghost from a J-horror film with her distorted, beastly, jerking movements and disheveled hair in her face. The film depicts this creature as a real being in physical space until the moments when it is shown that she is nothing more than a hallucination. What is convincing about her physicality is the fact that each time she shows up she wields something to hurt Lucie with. When Lucie manages to get away and run to Anna, she disappears.

Lucie barely hangs in there on the cliff of insanity until that night, as the two of them are hiding out in the house, Anna laboriously dragging bodies to the back yard to be thrown into a pit. Anna is tending to the body of the mother, when suddenly the body’s eyes open, as reflected in the mirror Anna is looking into (a really effective shot). The mother is still barely alive and Anna is compelled to try and save her. While Lucie is upstairs, she tries her best to move the mother out of the house, imploring her to be as quiet as possible, but she is unsuccessful, and Lucie finds them in the kitchen after hearing the noise of the mother’s whimpers. Lucie is sent over the edge, throws herself down and hammers the mother to sure death this time before going on a rampage on the glass around the house, diverting her energy from the source of her rage, which she would never hurt. Anna cowers along the floor as Lucie yells at her. “You don’t believe me?! How can you want to save her? She HURT me!” Finally Lucie hurls herself out of a ground floor window, grabs a shard of glass, and ends her life. End Part 1.

So we are halfway through the film at this point. There is so much blood and violence and pain going on, why am I still watching? If you’ve seen the film, (and actually enjoyed it), why are you still watching? I have seen a lot of films that fall squarely into the shocking, disturbing, and controversial categories. But many of them I don’t care to ever watch again. There are several films I’ve watched just because I’ve read or heard about their importance to film history, films like Irreversible. I was all but completely disinterested throughout. The film had no meaning for me, and I was never struck emotionally, despite watching someone go through scenes of incredible pain and suffering. The same for I Spit on Your Grave, which I watched as part of a college class on women and violence in film. We had an interesting debate afterwards, but I certainly have zero inclination to ever, ever see it again. As a woman, this is understandable in both cases. So let’s go a different direction. Most of Takashi Miike’s catalogue. Let’s look at Ichi the Killer (2001). Miike is one of my favorite directors, but it is not because of Ichi the Killer or even Izo (2004). He is one of my favorite directors because of films like Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (2006), Sukiyaki Western Django (2007), Crows Zero (2007), Audition (1999) and Hara-Kiri (2011). So now I’m getting closer.

Part of what I’m fascinated with is simply the photography, and the visual aspect, touches by a skilled director and cinematographer that may not even be noticed at first viewing, but which touch something deep in the psyche that acts like a foil for what emotion or feeling the director is trying to bring out, (much like the score, which I’ve already written about in prior posts). Like a shot of a person’s distorted viewpoint from a high ledge when you want someone to feel vertigo, or getting a shot of a woman whose face is lit by the morning sun from a low 45 degree angle at the moment when a man falls in love with her.  —Tangent–> My favorite actors all have a subtle quality in their acting; very, very slight movements of trademark expressions that can vary widely depending on the situation. Their characters always feel fresh because of this versatility. One raised eyebrow paired with a mouth position is profoundly effective when Tilda Swinton,  Stellan Skarsguard or Tom Hiddleston does it, but it also manages to evoke different, equally profound emotions between different characters and stories. It is like magic. Actors I really wish I liked because I like their movies but don’t include Tom Hanks, Nicholas Cage and Julia Stiles, simply because I find them to be flat-faced to where they always look the same.<—End Tangent—

Another important aspect to these films is that the over-the-top violence in some cases serves a purpose for the movie that enhances instead of distracts. I don’t like movies that quickly become all about the spectacle of violence. I think the least enjoyable kinds of movies are the shoot-em-up action stuff where the only cohesive element is a rehash of the same convoluted story line, manifesting in hundreds of different flavors from mafia to dystopian robots. The heart of these films is special effects and lots of violence. The film at the extreme of the pure spectacle aspect of the art. And I mean the gun movies where people simply pull triggers then blood starts spraying everywhere.

This isn’t to say that lots of guns equals a shallow movie. Remembering the appreciation of artistry in visual choreography, I love scenes like the one in the Matrix (1999) where Trinity and Neo shoot up the place at the end to rescue Morpheus. It is choreographed, cut and paced like a ballet and it is beautiful. This film also has great characters and an interesting story.

Films with almost all fighting and insignificant story pretty much only work for me in films like Police Story (1985), or basically almost anything Jackie Chan has ever choreographed. His films are shot perfectly to capture a mix of fantastic choreography and highlights of key impacts and facial expressions to tell a story purely with movement.


All of this brings me to the movies that got me thinking about a post like this in the first place. The films of Todd Solondz. Hmmm, some adjectives to describe the effect of his films… We’ve established I don’t think words like “disturbing” or “controversial” really hit it at all…

Nauseating is valid. Resonant. Kinetic. Unrelenting. Adjectives to describe the films themselves…over-the-top. Exaggerated. Thought-provoking. Naïve. Retaliatory.

The aim of Solondz’s Happiness (1998), I think, is to cram down the viewers’ throats the ugly truths of life that society chooses to bury underneath shampoo commercials. To throw in our faces the dumb hypocrisy of our taboos held up against our behaviors like a shadow puppet show. To make us think about how living together in a marriage of turmoil keeps one in good conscience and passers-by comfortable, while running away from the horror and shame-inducing possibility of divorce. His films make us ask ourselves, “Oh shit, is that me?” “Why do I think this is funny?” “Would I feel bad if someone were here and saw me laughing?”

His movies like to play with the line between uncomfortable and funny. It makes me think about my own common reactions in almost any social situation where I feel uncomfortable, rooted in my Asperger’s syndrome characteristic: I giggle, I smile, I laugh. Doesn’t have to be anything funny going on. Along the line somewhere I decided and internalized a societal truth that laughter makes it all go away…

In Happiness, laughter does not make it go away. It makes us look at ourselves, ask questions. Because the line I’m talking about between funny and uncomfortable pretty much always gets crossed in Solondz movies, more-so in Happiness than some of his other films like Dark Horse (2011).

And here we come to it. I like films that make me have the kinds of reactions that lead to questioning myself and my world. I don’t want to be comfortable too long. I feel it creeping up and I literally jump out and away to find something else to strike me, or to strike against. The more I research Asperger’s, the more I see where this nature comes from, not only as part of my personality, with which I’ve always associated it, but embedded neurologically. I want to know everything, and I don’t want anything to get in the way or slow me down. I am hungry all the time. When I found Happiness, I immediately watched all other Solondz movies I could find. Inevitably this path will intersect with another movie or director and I will go running down another path. Running in all of these directions lead inevitably to various intersections, and these are the most exciting discoveries of all.