My wife and I went to see Wretches and Jabberers the other day. Haven’t seen it? No? I’m not surprised. It’s a small independent film about two autistic men. It’s not on Netflix and it certainly hasn’t had very widespread distribution. But it’s a great movie, and more uplifting than you might suspect. The film drives home the point that the interior world of these men is rich and articulate. At the same time, it demonstrates how hard it is to turn off our judgments on their odd and alienating behavior.
Here’s the trailer.
I recommend reading something from Tracy’s blog, which he maintains on the movie site. If you’re like me, you’ll have a hard time believing those words came from the shambling, spastic man in the movie. But they did. It’s humbling to see how much we rely on appearance to form our opinions.
I was going to write more about the movie, but my wife Wendy wrote an extensive review, so I’m including it here.
A note from Wendy
Ned and I saw this movie last month and it was so amazing — I have to spread the word. Unfortunately, it’s had a limited release, but on Thurs. May 12 it will be shown in 100 cities (or that’s the goal). Check the website for a list of cities, theaters and times. In Massachusetts, it will be shown in Dedham at 7:30pm and in Worcester also at 7:30pm. I am hoping it will be available through Netflix eventually.
“Wretches and Jabberers” is a documentary about adult autistics who communicate with various keyboard devices. The two main characters are Tracy (age 42) and Larry (age 52) who live in Vermont and didn’t learn to keyboard until they were adults. When they learned to communicate by typing, their lives changed dramatically. It gives me hope for Jay! The documentary shows their trip around the world in 2009, with stops in Sri Lanka, Japan, and Finland, to meet other adults with autism who feel isolated (the Japanese boy is actually only 16 and has written a bunch of books– he jumps all around like when Jay is in pogo-mode). They also meet with groups of neurotypical people, reporters, a Buddhist monk… They are trying to get the message out that having a disability does not mean you are not intelligent inside.
Here are some quotes from the movie (may not be exactly word-for-word). Of course they pack much more of a punch when you see Larry and Tracy painstakingly type them out.
“I am more like you than not.” (from Larry, this is on the trailer, and inspired a great song on the soundtrack)
Asked about when he couldn’t type, Tracy wrote “I was trapped inside like a caged animal waiting to be freed”
Asked what was the first thing he wanted to type when he learned how, Tracy wrote “I told my mom that I loved her”. (aw, man, the tears were streaming down my face– will Jay ever express this to me?)
Larry: “autism is not so much an abnormal brain, but abnormal experience.” You can see in the film how much difficulty Larry has with sensory experiences.
Larry, after the loud drumming in a Buddhist temple sends him fleeing, speaks of “the death grip of autism on my actions”.
Tracy describes when he was young and couldn’t communicate: “I was reaching out by acting out, with not much success.”
And there were so many more fascinating things that they said. It was sad and uplifting at the same time.
500,000 Americans with autism will reach adulthood in the next 10 years, including Jay. Will we be able to embrace them and incorporate them into society, or will we continue to marginalize them? This movie is a big step in the awareness direction.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers on this list! And all you moms with children with autism: keep hoping.
p.s. the autistic nonverbal adults are the “wretches” in the title (self-proclaimed by a Finnish young man) and we talkers are the “jabberers”.