Autism is always going to be a difficult subject to tackle on screen. How to tastefully portray a disorder that thousands of people are struggling with daily. How to accurately describe the feeling of not ever quite fitting in with society, or the pressure that builds amongst families and the coping mechanisms each person uses. Thankfully X + Y handles the task with ease and grace.
Nathan has ‘special powers’ he says. Special powers that make him stand out, feel isolated. He can’t connect to his mother because she’s “not clever enough”. His world is of logic and reason, and so struggles with the love and affection his mother (Sally Hawkins) is so desperate for. His only solace is maths. Audiences watch as Nathan struggles to adapt to the worlds around him. His disassociation from his mother following tragic events makes for painful viewing but never uncomfortable.
Recognising this extraordinary gift, his mother sends him to secondary school early to receive special tuition from a former maths-whizz. Rafe Spall comes in as the obviously disgruntled teacher, fighting with multiple sclerosis, whilst living with his failings as a past gifted student. Realising Nathan could live up to the dreams he never could fulfil they begin training for the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO). After making it to the training camp, he faces obstacles like never before. Other mathematicians.
Nathan is (in his sphere at least) a maths genius. When put alongside others the same he freezes, loses confidence. He is just average for once. It’s this mediocrity that allows him to form bonds with his ‘maths buddy’ Zhang Mei. Taiwan then becomes the main backdrop of the elegant film. A bubbling kaleidoscope of sounds and colours and shapes, foreign and peculiar. We experience this world as Nathan does, through distorted lights and enhanced sounds to really put the audience in the place of his discomfort. As the scenes unfold we watch Nathan loosen, we see all the characters enriching and helping each others lives.
Now I only know so much about the disorder, I can not and would not claim to be an expert. However X + Y felt authentic in it’s storytelling, real and heartbreaking at times, powerful and uplifting at others. Sally Hawkins as Nathan’s mother Julie is just terrific as always, her ability to portray everyday people masking their pain and struggling never ceases to amaze me. Spall provides comic relief, through grumpy grumblings, and attempts to form romantic attachments with Julie. A truly virtuoso performance from Asa Butterfield as he meanders Nathan’s fears and bewilderments. Following his documentary BEAUTIFUL YOUNG MINDS Morgan Matthews manages to create a piece of cinematic brilliance.
A sweet, heart wrenching if somewhat unrealistic ending leaves you with a warm feeling, and a notion that love can cure so many ailments. A superb film, a must see this weekend.