Mozart and the Whale (2005)

In many books and movies dealing with autism and Asperger’s,  a related disorder, a scene is added where a person, generally a psychiatrist, explains the situation to another character.

This is most likely not added to aid character or plot development. Probably this part is there to help people who are not in the know about it, in other words, people who don’t get what these conditions are, so they’ll understand the story better.

In Mozart and the Whale, the main character, Donald (Josh Hartnett), pauses in the beginning to talk about life with Asperger’s. One might think these would be interesting, and a good departure from the “shrink explains” cliche, but actually it becomes rather irksome.

Judging from this movie, people on the autistic spectrum like nothing more than to sit around and discuss their conditions. Mozart and the Whale is a romantic drama based on the memoir of the same title, which I’ve never read. The main characters, Donald and Isabella (Radha Mitchell) have Asperger’s Syndrome and meet during a support group meeting. The film chronicles how their relationship begins and the difficulties of trying to coexist in a romantic situation on the autism spectrum.

Well, I’m guessing some people might have no clue what Asperger’s is. I suppose, though, by telling you, I will be making the same mistake the film did and boring people who already understand it. I guess the difference was that Donald was discussing this with fellow Aspergians who were already in a support group and probably didn’t need instruction.

Then again, maybe you don’t either. In that case, skip the following paragraphs and cut to the chase. Asperger’s, in short, is a difference in the mind that cause difficulties relating to people, and in some cases, uncommon reactions to certain stimuli. It’s related to a more commonly known condition, autism, but tends to be milder. People with Asperger’s have problems with social skills, have certain interests they dwell on, and don’t easily “change gears.”

Some of them are introverted, and others try to relate but come off as sort of odd. Introversion, possibly, could be a reaction to being misunderstood. Generally they are gifted and grow up to live more independently than people who are autistic. In the beginning of  Mozart and the Whale, Donald meets Isabella, a new addition to the support group. Isabella is a bright, excitable, and socially challenged artist who immediately tells fellow group members about being raped as a teenager.

Obviously she is angered when a severely autistic woman displays a grossly inappropriate reaction and begins laughing, although she doesn’t understand the woman’s problems or her own flawed behavior. Infuriated, she is stopped from leaving by Donald, who convinces her to keep going to meetings. One of the group members has a nervous crush on Isabella, but she is more interested in Donald. Soon, she invites him to a costume party, which he doesn’t arrive for.

She comes and knocks on his door dressed as Mozart, and he joins her to walk with her, him in a whale costume (hence the title). They spend time together, and even a near-breakdown from stimulus overload at the carnival doesn’t ruin the night. Before departing, they have their first kiss. After their bond deepens and they move in with each other, they start having problems in their relationship. Several times they leave each other but get back together.

However, problems arise when Isabella feels that Donald is unaccepting and is trying to”‘normalize” them for the outside world, and she and Donald break up. The two of them feel lost without each other and Isabella becomes suicidal, but they’re afraid to get back together. Mozart and the Whale is a okay movie, although at times it becomes irritating, especially at the beginning.

When we are first introduced to the main characters, the director seems to be afraid we’ll forget the condition of the group members, so we’re constantly hit atop the head with “autistic” symptoms. The characters mention their disorder just about every five minutes, and their “interests,” such as mathematics or art, seem so hackneyed that it’s difficult to relate to many of them.

On the plus side, the movie is made so that each person, in many ways, is vastly different from the others. Although they share Asperger’s, their general personalities and mannerisms are their own, though at times overdone. Actually, Donald and Isabella are not very alike, although they both lack proper social skills.

All in all, Mozart and the Whale seems like more of a tool to explain Asperger’s than a proper story. I don’t have the book to judge from, but the film is well-intentioned but plods heavily at times. It’s definitely not the worst view of the autistic spectrum, but it’s far from the best.

 

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