Published in Volume II of the 2005 MAAP Newsletter.
Probably one of the best ways to learn about autism is by scenes from movies. I have learned a lot from movies. Thus, instead of giving you a list of recommended books to read, I’m going to give you a list of recommended movies to watch. You will see that many of the movies recommended have been mentioned earlier in the book.
1. I AM SAM (2001) – Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer
A drama about a man named Sam Dawson, who suffers with mental disorders. After raising his daughter, Lucy, by himself for seven years, he must defend himself in court when he is found to be an unfit parent based on false charges, and, in the meantime, must try to find a way of convincing the court, his lawyer, and the foster parents trying to take Lucy away from him that he is a worthy father despite his disability.
2. MEAN GIRLS (2004) – Lindsay Lohan
A movie that focuses on a very lesser-known subject: mainstreaming. Cady has grown up in Africa with her zoologist parents, and was home-schooled when in Africa. When her family moves to the United States, she must go to school for the first time—as an 11th grader. She tries her best to gain social acceptance, but soon learns the differences between “animal world”—the world she has known all her life—and “girl world”—the society of teenage girls at her school. Eventually she succeeds at gaining popularity by winning the acceptance of a manipulative clique, and although she hates the members of the clique, enjoys the status that she gets by being a member while secretly devising a plot to hurt the clique’s members. However, in order to retain her popularity, she must pay the price of sacrificing everything else she cares about in her life and getting the whole school in trouble in the process.
3. MONA LISA SMILE (2003) – Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst
Period film about college professor Katherine Watson, who accepts a teaching job at an all-girls college, Wellesley College in the 1950s. She soon finds that the students there are very cavalier about their education and believe that this is only a place to find a husband, get married, and be a housewife. She disagrees with this statement and is determined to show them that they can strive for something different.
4. UPTOWN GIRLS (2003) – Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning
“Chick-flick” about two rich girls in New York. Molly Gunn is the daughter of two rock stars, who has inherited their fortune when they died. After her money is swindled by her accountant, she is left penniless and is forced to get a job. She finally gets one—the nanny of Ray Schleine, the daughter of a record company executive. Ray is a snobby, stuck-up kid who has alienated over a dozen previous nannies. But unlike the other nannies, Molly is determined to keep her job and try to find the real reason behind Ray’s behavior. This movie is actually two movies in one—the story of Molly and her life after her money is stolen, and the story of Molly and her relationship with Ray.
5. GOOD WILL HUNTING (1998) – Matt Damon, Robin Williams
Will Hunting is in trouble. He gets in fights with his friends, has been arrested several times, and is threatened with serving jail time. In the day, however, he works as a janitor at M.I.T. But despite all of his aggression, Will has the mind of a genius—he can easily solve math problems in a few minutes that the average math student takes days and weeks to solve. A math professor at M.I.T. finds out about him and wants him to get a job as a mathematician to take advantage of his abilities. But first he has to get his life in control, with the help of a psychiatrist who also has some issues of his own.
6. MERCURY RISING (1998) – Bruce Willis, Miko Hughes
The violent action thriller that Dr. Leventhal helped make. One day at school, a nonverbal autistic child, Simon, is given a puzzle magazine as a reward for good behavior. In this puzzle magazine, one of the puzzles is to crack a coded message. What the kid doesn’t know is that the coded message that he cracked was in a code created by the government for top-secret messages, and that message was placed in that magazine in order to make sure no one could crack it. When the government finds out that Simon cracked the code, a corrupt official hires a hitman to kill Simon, and anyone who knows that he can read the code. After the hitman murders Simon’s parents, Art, an FBI agent in trouble with his boss, takes Simon into his custody in order to protect him and his own life from the hitman. While chasing the hitman throughout the city of Chicago, he must somehow explain to this nonverbal autistic child the extent of the danger he is in. [NOTE: The following movie is Rated R.]
7. MEET THE PARENTS (2000) – Ben Stiller, Robert DeNiro
Greg Focker is a male nurse in a Chicago hospital. He’s going to marry Pam Byrnes. But in order to marry her, he has to meet her parents. At the same time he is visiting Pam’s parents, Pam’s sister is also getting married to a doctor. Her parents, however, are not your average couple, and no matter how hard he tries to please them, he always ends up getting embarrassed.
8. BEAN (1996) – Rowan Atkinson
Comedy about an eccentric British art museum guard, Mr. Bean, who is assigned to accompany an original painting to an American art museum by the museum officials in Britain, but only as a way to get rid of him. They are able to convince the American officials by creating a false resume to make him look like a well-educated art expert. But he is in fact very strange and of low-intelligence. But after he completely destroys the painting, it is only he who can save the day.
9. STONE READER (2002) – Mark Moskowitz
Documentary about the personal quest of a fan and the author he loves. Mark Moskowitz has read a book by Dow Mossman, The Stones of Summer. His dream is to find and meet Mr. Mossman. He spends night after night on the Internet trying to find out where he should go to find him, and along the way alienates many people, as well as meeting with many people who are obsessed with books and authors of their own. And in some cases, those people are more obsessed than he is.
10. SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003) – Jack Black, Joan Cusack
Comedy about a rock guitarist who gives educational value to hard rock. When Dewey is kicked out of his band by the other members, he needs a job. He also has a dream in performing in a local “Battle of the Bands” competition. How does he try to fulfill both dreams? He impersonates his neighbor, Ned, a substitute teacher, and gets a job teaching at an austere private elementary school. His plan is to train his class to become a hard rock band that he can then compete with in the Battle of the Bands competition. And along the way, he also plans to show his class the true definition of education.
11. THE POLAR EXPRESS (2004) – Tom Hanks
Excellent animated movie about a young boy who is invited to go to visit Santa Claus at the North Pole via the Polar Express, and the kids he befriends on the train. There’s a kid who’s a know-it-all, and can tell you all the facts about the train. There’s a kid who’s terrified of being rejected by the other kids. And there’s a kid who just wants to believe that Santa Claus exists.
12. FREAKY FRIDAY (2003) – Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan
A movie that has been remade several times but still original. Anna and Tess Coleman cannot understand each other. They’re always fighting each other. They despise each other ever since Anna’s father died. But now Tess is about to remarry. So how do they deal with the fact that, for some strange reason, their minds have changed into each other’s bodies, and must live the life of the person they cannot understand until they can somehow change back?