This is it: we finally get a well-needed theatrical depiction of a man with ASD in The Accountant. But how does it work in shining positive light on Autism? Well, let’s see…
Right from the first scene, a murder is setup to make us wonder, “What’s happening? Who killed who? Will we get our answers before this film is over?” Then it follows with one of the most stressful ways to begin a movie I have ever seen: A boy diagnosed with autism solves a Muhammad Ali jigsaw puzzle upside-down and goes uncontrollably berserk when he loses a puzzle piece. In that meantime, his parents are discussing with a psychologist about his future. His US Veteran father believes that his son needs maximum exposure to what triggers his sensitivity, as it prepares him for the noisy reality ahead of him.
So now, as a grown up, played by Ben Affleck, this Aspie’s nightly routine involves cranking his sensory exposure past its limit with strobe lights, loud music, and self-pain inflicted on his leg with a rolling pin. These sequences feel stressful enough, but it’s what he does outside his home that raises concerns.
He accepts a job at a corporation to perform intensive calculations of fifteen ledgers in order to calculate the business of their profits. It’s an intriguing scene that shines spectacular light on what autism can do, but what he does with this information will just as quickly discourage you. This man secretly uses these statistics to acquire money through tax evasion that he stores in his trailer, mercilessly putting a bullet to the head on everybody who gets in his way.
As he goes to avoid getting exposed for his crimes, he also develops a predictable romance with a coworker played by the overrated actress Anna Kendrick. Let me tell you, she got lucky with her Academy Award nomination for Up in the Air, but I cannot think of any role of hers, especially this one, where she put even a hint of effort or care into the part she was playing. Her so-called on screen chemistry with the bored-looking Ben Affleck here only makes her screen presence all the more depressing.
But back to the autistic criminal (wow, never thought I’d use those two words together); as he goes from accountant to tax robber, an investigation takes place elsewhere in Chicago from the perspective of an analyst who is investigating this case to avoid jail time. At first, this subplot adds nothing to the main plot, they are arranged in an inappropriate pattern by editor Richard Pearson (Quantum of Solace, United 93), who interrupts a scene mid-way with a completely unrelated scene.
Overall, this subplot is necessary, but has no sense of craft or flavor to make me want to care about the investigation. That is, until her boss, played by J.K. Simmons, tells his backstory that provides the needed glue to paste the film back together.
If somebody instantly familiar with autism were to watch this loud movie and see one of the few on-screen portrayals of a man on the spectrum, would they be pleased or disgusted?
Yes. As somebody on the spectrum myself, I am pleased to see all the truths said about autism: this accountant is full of sensitivity, makes little eye contact, is blunt in conversation, has the utensils in his drawer arranged in a specific way, and is an expert at gun-aiming. Yet at the same time, he uses his skills in numbers and attention to upfront the law. He disproves his father’s fears that he would be taken advantage of by utilizing of his own skills as a means of acquiring money for himself, leading to intense killings of those who are far worse than he is. It’s addressed that he’s doing wrong in these acts, but is he ever punished for his crimes? Well, without giving anything away, no. He is not rightfully punished for his crimes.
While The Accountant may prove how autism is capable in an insensitive world, it still treats the disorder as a plot device for the sake of the main conflict’s progression, while at the same time encouraging the use of skills to prove the political system wrong.
Of the few cinematic portrayals of autism I have seen, I have never seen one quite like this one.
He’s an accountant, but he’s also a thief, and a murderer. Specifically, his autism is what contributes to his abilities to avoid capture by the law. It’s very different from the hopeless dependent depictions (Rain Man) or the inspirational redemptive depictions (Temple Grandin), but at the same time, this is a darker side to autism that we might as well consider, as people with autism despised by the law is a definite possibility.
I realize that it is not something we like to think about, but anyone on the autism spectrum who grew up with a traumatic childhood could easily lose insight on what’s right and wrong, using his abnormal abilities for his selfish purposes. If you ask me, this falls completely underneath the responsibility of the parents.
In this movie, the character played by Ben Affleck grew up under a broken household: his father spent more time in the Army than with his family, and had completely irrational ideas to prepare his son for the real world. He taught him that he should stand up to bullies by physical means, and literally torture himself in order to face reality in a “normal” way.
This isn’t to put all the blame on the parents for a child’s immoral behavior as a grown up, everyone has their own ability to decipher right from wrong. What I’m saying is that a tremendous percentage of that influence on how one treats life comes from the family home. It tends to be a pattern for anybody: whoever is brought up in a sustainable, loving home grows up to be successful and happy. Whoever is brought up in a broken, abusive home grows up wasting their lives.
Yet the effects of a disorderly family can generate far more trauma for anybody on the autism spectrum. The greatest reasoning for this by my experience is that…
Six-Word Lessons on Growing Up Autistic, Lesson #83: Their Memories are Sharp and Vivid.
You may not remember the details of your life as a six year old, but I can easily pinpoint many events in my life at that stage almost as if it were yesterday. Because those with ASD have such clear memories of their pasts, any hint of parental abuse or negligence leaves a far more confusing impact that jumbles up life’s morals.
Six-Word Lessons for Dads with Autistic Kids, Lesson #58: He Must Know When He’s Wrong.
Every parent should understand that they are the ones responsible in teaching their kids right from wrong. It’s not on the school or the TV to teach morals to their kids, for that percentage of time is far outweighed by time at home.
With all these steadily increasing things in society such as divorce rates, alcoholic purchases, domestic abuse, and gun violence, there needs to be a greater attention to teach our autistic kids right from wrong, so that they don’t turn out as unrepentant criminals like in The Accountant.
- Know that you, the parents, are the main influence on how your kids will turn out. Especially when your kids are autistic, you are their first role model on what to do in any given situation. This powerful TV ad sums up my point perfectly.
- Be careful about the media you show your kids. It’s not to say that the TV is the greater influence on your kids, but rather that your cautious attention to morality in what they watch demonstrates strong judgment.
- Be careful about the media that you personally take in. Regardless of what you may think, what you watch does influence how you look at the world and how you treat your kids.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see reviewed, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
The Accountant. Warner Bros. Web. <http://www.accountantmovie.com/#start>.
April McCormick, Children See, Children Do. HIGH QUALITY. Video. YouTube. 22 Jul 2013. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JrtpCM4yMM>.
Warner Bros. Pictures. The Accountant - "Who Is The Accountant?" Trailer [HD]. Digital image. YouTube. 12 May 2016. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNGhnNMSopI>.