In 1993, my 19 year old brain latched on to a movie character and wouldn't let go. Now in 2015, I rewatched to find out why.
In 1993 autism was considered a rare condition that was little understood. Few English-speaking mental health professionals had even heard of its higher-functioning form, Asperger Syndrome, because it wouldn't be in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual) for another year.
Nevertheless, writers and actors excel at capturing the human spirit. That year, a movie came out that accurately depicted high-functioning autism and directly combated ableism (harmful beliefs about disabled people) in unambiguous terms.
Benny & Joon is unique. How often are two disabled people allowed to fall in love with each other on the big screen? This may be the only autistic romance movie in existence.
If you are autistic, Benny & Joon offers validation, empowerment, and positive self-image. If you know an autistic adult or child, this movie should add depth to your understanding of them. And if you never expect to meet an autist, well, statistics are against you, but at least watch it to have your heart warmed and your awareness expanded.
It saddens me, however, that certain critics somehow found Benny & Joon problematic. Throughout this post, I will directly answer the points made by one of these reviews.
Spoiler warning: This review reveals plot points and thematic arcs, but don't worry. The formulaic storyline is already somewhat predictable; the joy is in seeing it played out on screen by interesting characters. You might even enjoy it more by having this autistic lens to view it through.
Why My Brain Latched On and Wouldn't Let Go
When I first saw this movie, I didn't know that 18 years later I would be diagnosed with Aspergers. But my subconscious knew that Joon was like me. I loved Joon. I admired her. I related to her.
I identified with her odd little mannerisms, and knew that, deep down, I wanted to hold the same flat affect on my face and make those jerky, birdlike motions. Her descriptions of the world mirrored my own strange ways of thinking. Her outbursts and unusual speech patterns reflected an inner persona I was holding at bay, like I had this little bit of crazy locked up inside that escaped sometimes when no one was looking.