Life, Animated was the first film that I felt extremely excited for this year. Since first watching the trailer, my excitement only increased and I was not left disappointed. My brother is just like our lovely protagonist, Owen Suskind, and so for this reason I wanted to see how the documentary would portray autistic people. Would enough focus be placed on their struggles? Would they be seen as hard to relate to? Or would they simply be sad little things to be pitied? Thankfully, director Roger Ross Williams did an exceptional job of showing the reality of being an autistic person and helping us to understand what it’s like to be imprisoned inside your own mind, unable to understand the world the same way that others do.
The documentary is based on Pulitzer prize winning journalist Ron Suskind’s book, Life, Animated and has since won the directing award at Sundance festival. It’s easy to see why, with its beautiful animations that intercut each scene to perfectly portray how Owen is feeling, like a reflection of the Disney films that infiltrates Owen’s mind.
Autism affects as many as one in every hundred children and so is not something that should be taken lightly. What remains astonishing is that although many are unable to interact with society normally, there are an incredible amount that possess great intelligence and skills which is clearly seen through Owen. He is a wonderful artist and is very eloquent when he speaks, definitely more so than I am. The way he speaks and reacts to many things shows us that he has the mentality of a child, however it is this mentality that makes him so pure. Autistic people tend to be misunderstood and Owen perfectly articulates this. A particularly heartbreaking scene that depicts this is when Ron (his father) recounts the story of when Owen first spoke, after years of not being able to say a word or only speaking ‘gibberish’. He took a puppet of Iago, Jafar’s evil sidekick parrot from Aladdin and, playing in the role of Iago, asked him what was wrong. To this Owen responds that he is okay, but he would like friends. This theme of loneliness constantly permeates Owen’s story but thankfully, he manages to integrate into society and even has a girlfriend when he is older! Owen throughout the years uses all the disney films to communicate how he is feeling, thus showing the way in which film can be used to aid a child’s mental progression. The illustrations are beautiful and add a tender touch to the film whilst in no way downplaying the seriousness of the narrative.
This is by far the best documentary I have seen this year, and I have seen a lot. It tugs at my heartstrings in the best way possible, just as it will do yours. The best part of this documentary is how much easier it is to understand autism, since it is described from different perspectives. Not only is it informative, but it’s fun and entertaining to watch as you support, laugh and cry with Owen every step of the way.