The Sunshine Boy
17 September 2009 7 Comments
The Sunshine Boy (Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, Iceland 2009)
There are some films that have the power to change the world, and I hope this one actually proves it.
Fridrik Thor Fridriksson directs this documentary about one woman’s journey to try and understand her autistic son’s mind. In adopting the voice of one mother’s search for answers, and help, for her son, the film introduces the wide spectrum of effects this condition can have on individuals and families, many of them heart-breaking.
What the film achieves is emphasising that autism does not mean ‘brain-damaged’. Rather, the communication channels in the individual’s brain have been cut-off, or isolated. The film shows time and again, especially with the focus on the Halo-Soma Rapid Prompting Method that remarkable strides can be made in communicating with non-verbal sufferers of autism, if new channels are created. Paraphrasing the words of Soma Mukhopadhyay, the founder of this method, we need to find ways to help the child to learn taking into account the wiring of his brain, rather than giving up on him because his brain is not wired like ours.
I don’t have the competence to describe the method here — you have to watch the film to see it at work (and do try if it comes to a theatre near you!). But there is something profoundly moving in seeing a child (age 11) whom medical practitioners and social workers have condemned to having the mental age of an infant communicate in whole sentences via an alphabet board, in his second language at that (!), in front of his parents for the first time. Even his mother, whose voice is narrated by Kate Winslet (to raise the film’s profile and maximise its visibility), did not know if he could even understand Icelandic (his first language), much less English, which he would have been exposed to intermittently.
There is something uplifting, astonishing, and yet socially damning, in hearing some of the first words of this child everyone thought might be mentally impaired uttered in full and complete sentences. ‘Can I play piano?’ was one. ‘I have been making songs since I was small’ another. Other similarly-afflicted kids are revealed to be writers, artists, stockbrokers, and not endowed just with ordinary talent, but exceptional. Just because they can’t express themselves in ways that we can understand, or accept, doesn’t mean they’re incapacitated.
How many other children, and adults, are forever condemned to be locked in the prison of their disability because we, so-called ‘normal’ people, lack the imagination to try and communicate with them? Normality, and normativism, are far too over-rated, and falling back on them uncritically is plain laziness. If there’s one thing I hope Saturn (foundation-builder in service-oriented Virgo) opposing Uranus (innovator in humanitarian Aquarius) brings, it is the courage and the imagination to look beyond old limits.
These kids, and humanity, deserve better.