Review by Camden Ferrell
The Reason I Jump is a documentary film that had its premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival where it won the audience award for World Documentary. This film is directed by Jerry Rothwell and based on the book by Naoki Higashida. While the intentions are noble and it removes a lot of stigma around individuals with autism, the documentary can benefit from a longer runtime and more thorough exploration of its subjects.
This movie uses passages from Higashida’s book to highlight five individuals from around the world who have nonspeaking autism. This is a significant topic that isn’t seen enough in media, and these young individuals are fascinating. They are the perfect subjects to create a sense of empathy in viewers and to educate viewers on their unique experiences.
The narration of the book that is dispersed throughout the film is its strongest aspect. Despite being young, Higashida’s insights into his own experiences are beautiful and eloquent, and they do a great job of vividly imparting his experiences onto the viewers. While this mainly provides a framework for the rest of the documentary, it contributes significantly to the film’s quality and the power of its message.
Each of the subjects are remarkable in their own ways, and it’s fantastic to see the movie celebrate and educate viewers on their differences. They are interesting and the movie treats them very tastefully and didactically. The movie sometimes feels unbalanced in the way it tries to juggle all five subjects, but this flaw is often redeemed.
The cinematography is also a highlight of the film. Ruben Woodin Dechamps frames the subjects with humanity and grace, and it elevates the stories being told. It doesn’t shy away from the subjects, and it is an unbiased camera that humanizes individuals with autism who are often overlooked. It carefully crafts its shots in order to teach us about their unique experiences and the various aspects of their daily lives.
Running under ninety minutes, this film often feels like it could have spent more time with its subjects and sharing their experiences. I really enjoyed the way the film employed many senses to share its message, and I believe it could benefit from more of it. However, the film has probably done wonders in progressing the conversation around autism and removing any stigma surrounding it.
Rothwell’s movie is very empathetic, and it’s important that these stories are no longer in the shadows. These individuals warrant attention, and it’s important that as a society, we progress in order to better accommodate and understand their point of view.
The Reason I Jump makes up for its brevity and occasional lulls with an essential and timely message. Hopefully, it opens the doors for similar movies and stories to be told in the future. This is an interesting documentary, and it’s one that will help close the bridge separating society from these fascinating individuals.
The Reason I Jump is available in virtual cinemas January 8. (A list of participating theaters can be found here).