The Poppy Stone Algorithm

 

Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of autism, which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. Asperger’s Syndrome is mostly a ‘hidden disability’. This means that you can’t tell that someone has the condition from their outward appearance; precisely why I would like to make a film which expresses how a person with Asperger’s Syndrome sees the world. People with the condition have difficulties in a variety of different areas which can be separated into categories: sensory sensitivity, obsessions, repetitive behaviour and routines, organising and a deficit in cognitive function.

At the start of the process my intentions were to produce a romantic-comedy film which focused on Asperger’s. However, after researching the genre I realised that it was not a suitable genre for the intended focus with the only similarity being the concept of the “couple”. Therefore the genre of my film developed into more of an authentic drama with room to experiment with abstract forms. By authenticity, I mean by avoidance of putting a Hollywood spotlight on the subject and instead showing the way in which a person with Asperger’s sees the world through stylistic use of point of view. Films such as Forrest Gump, Rain Man and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? are all critically acclaimed and well made films. However, I feel that they fall into a trap which causes them to present “mental disorders” in a way which highlights them but does not begin to interrogate and authentically understand them. It is not only mainstream films which do this, a BBC film called Silent Things also highlights the disorder in what seems to be a negative way, with a restricted view. It seeks to present autism in a genuine, heartfelt way but it also goes a step too far- through filmic styles it singles the two autistic characters out making them seem like outcasts.  The way the actors perform and speak is somewhat too stereotypical and explicit and in some ways places a barrier between their authenticity and the spectator. The film also appears quite edgy and malevolent and although this may be somewhat realistic, a happier sides of the disorder needs to be shown by way of enlightenment. A film which does achieve this is the Sundance Film Festival winner Adam, directed by Max Mayer. This film is a simple and genuine view of Asperger’s Syndrome and more importantly it focuses on how the disorder works with relationships.

Asperger’s Syndrome seems to be a popular area of interest at the moment (see Sherlock, The Big Bang Theory) which is often perceived to a general audience as a “genius who is a bit rude to people”. The proliferation of this stereotype has arguably given audiences of mainstream television a misshapen view of Asperger’s Syndrome. Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome are deemed “Mental Disorders” and I believe that this may be inherently prejudiced as to me autism represents a different way of seeing the world, not a “disordered” way of seeing the world.

In order to achieve authenticity of the subject I intend on using a variety of filmic and stylistic techniques which, as there is no way of literally seeing the world through Asperger eyes, will allow greater access to different experiences of the world. One of my main intentions is to permit a shared experience between subject and audience which will be possible through the use of shallow focus, bokeh, macro, camera frontality and time lapsing. These filmic techniques all belong to an abstract category of film which is appropriate for a topic which can only be truly understood if you are that person. Murray Smith breaks down the ways in which we identify with characters into three separate categories; recognition, alignment, and allegiance. Allegiance is applicable as it is the idea of extending our sympathy and other emotions to characters based on their emotional status.  However, Murray Smith does state that “neither recognition nor alignment nor allegiance entail that the spectator replicate the traits, or experience the thoughts of emotions of a character[1]”. In order to see an authentic view of the world the spectator will need to extend their own emotion and share in the experience with our main character, Ted.

The different filmic styles I have mentioned are all useful ways of focusing on particular subjects which is intrinsically linked to the way in which a person with Asperger’s would have an obsession over one particular thing, as they find it overwhelming for there to be a mass of anything. This is known as the ‘executive function’ whereby a person may be “detail-focused and less able to see the whole picture[2].”  I intend on using the concept of frontality as a means of representing safety and as a medium to gradually allow the female character to gain more purchase. It will be used on various occasions including the main setting: a bus stop and a coffee shop. Both see the main character within a frame, an orderly, structured frame which represents Ted’s world- and his own window of seeing the outside world. Over time, we meet Poppy who is wild and free in nature and embodies everything which would overwhelm Ted. The use of a frontal camera shot enables us to view a literal representation of Ted’s world. In terms of Asperger’s Syndrome when a person experiences a sensory overload they will shut down which is known as fragmentation.

Another key trait of Asperger’s Syndrome is a tendency to obsess, repeat and organise. I intend on presenting this through a central prop: a Rubik’s Cube. The Rubik’s Cube represents maths, numbers, texture and order which establish a safe spatial relationship. Furthermore, in terms of the narrative the Rubik’s Cube means far more to Ted as it is something he finds as a small boy as a way of seeking solace. It then leads him to the bus stop, another place where Ted feels safe. Perhaps most important of all is the cube’s texture. Sensory Integration Dysfunction affects most children and adults with autism, it refers to the hyper sensitive nature to touch and texture. The Rubik’s Cube offers a smooth, solid and cool sensation which provides a sensory memory for Ted in terms of seeking safety after losing his mother in the overwhelming market as a young boy. I have also included texture within other moments of the film, and via the use of the macro shot am able to share the experience with the spectator and Ted. One scene in particular which embodies this concept takes place in the coffee shop whereby the free-spirited Poppy introduces a kiwi fruit into the scene. Ted is completely repulsed by this fruit and this is shown to the spectator through the medium of the macro shot, which allows us to share in his experience and understand that actually, the kiwi fruit is something we should more commonly be repulsed by.

One of the main agendas of my film is the critical concept of ‘Haptic Visuality’. In order to see the world through the eyes of a person with Asperger’s we need to appeal to the senses of the audience.  A person with Asperger’s Syndrome is likely to have “an unusual sensitivity to sound, touch and the texture or taste of food[3]” and within my film I am going to attempt to address each of these categories with the aid of Laura Marks’ ideas surrounding ‘haptic visuality’. She states that “the goal of haptic and sensuous cinema is to enhance our human capacities, rather than entirely replacing critical distance with haptic intimacy[4].” This relates to Asperger’s Syndrome well, as their minds are not simply replaced with something which is different to a neurotypical person’s it is the fact that their sensory receptors our enhanced. Therefore, it is the audience and the film’s goal to use our haptic memory as a way of understanding the point of view of a person with Asperger’s.

I am using sound as a way of allowing the spectator to access the mind of Ted. When a person with Asperger’s is overwhelmed it is likely that their surroundings will become distorted and sounds are often muffled, except for possibly the sound of what is in focus. In regards to my film, this is the Rubik’s Cube; the sound of it comforts him, as does the texture. We see the cube from a point of view shot which is close enough to view the surface of object and this could potentially make the spectator feel as if they are holding the cube. The idea of haptic visuality allows us to embody the characters emotions through our senses- in this case we can feel the Rubik’s Cube, not necessarily with our minds but through our bodies remembering, and this then allows us to understand the emotion that Ted is feeling and this is safety.  The Rubik’s Cube also represents numbers and maths which is another obsession which allows him to feel at ease with the world and safe.

I am using costume to demonstrate the use of this: his corduroy trousers (a feeling of homeliness) and also his Spiderman jumper. Spiderman is a symbol of safety in Ted’s life as well as the Rubik’s Cube. It takes him back to when he lost his mother in the market and feels that Spiderman and the Rubik’s Cube led him to safety and more importantly links back to the reason for being at the bus stop. On the other hand, Poppy’s costume and appearance will appear overwhelming and wild; her hair will be flowing and unkempt, her dresses will be vivid, loud and flowery prints and her bag will be brimming full of oddly-textured fruit and vegetables. However, despite the image of her being something overall that Ted would automatically refuse it is interesting that she is riding a bicycle. We all remember the feeling of riding a bicycle, there are no hidden surprises: it is orderly and functions the same every time we ride it. The mechanisms and maths of the bike slowly fascinate Ted and this allows him to feel safe despite the overwhelming presence of Poppy.

As well as a certain texture providing comfort for a person with Asperger’s it can equally provide the opposite. Many have an adamant refusal to wear certain kinds of materials, to eat foods of a certain texture and will cause them to recoil immediately.  I want to explore the use of this via the use of the kiwi fruit.  The kiwi fruit arguably is the strangest of textures for anyone, but for somebody with Asperger’s Syndrome in can cause them to become overwhelmed and potentially take over their lives. This is a concept which a neurotypical would find it difficult to understand because after all it is just a fruit. In order for the spectator to understand the effect of the kiwi’s texture they need to experience it from Ted’s point of view. I will be using a macro shot to depict the texture and reveal the ugly truth behind the innocent green fruit. Viewers will see the texture of the fruit and their own haptic memory will allow them to remember what the kiwi feels like. As Ted recoils almost immediately the camera will present this through movement and the audience will be taken back with him and they will not be left wondering why.

Overall, my main intentions will be to present an authentic view of Asperger’s Syndrome via the use of formal and stylistic strategies such as camera frontality, macro, shallow focus, use on screen text and voice over narration. All of which will aim to challenge both mainstream and some independent representations of the disorder. My film will utilise haptic visuality as a way of inviting the spectator into the world of Ted and provide a variety of different ways in which to do so.

 

Bibliography:

  • Attwood, T. (1988). Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals.
  • Marks, L. (2000). The Skin of Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses. Duke University Press Books.
  • Murray-Smith. (1995). Engaging Characters, Fiction, Emotion and the Cinema. Oxford University Press.
  • Purse, L. (2011) . Contemporary Action Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Sobchack, V. (1992). The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience.

 

Filmography:

  • Brown, Rob. (2010). Silent Things. UK. BBC
  • Hallström, Lasse. (1993). What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? USA. Paramount Pictures.
  • Levinson, Barry. (1988). Rain Man. USA. United Artists.
  • Mayer, Max. (2009). Adam. USA. Fox Searchlight Pictures
  • Sherlock. (2010)
  • The Big Bang Theory. (2007)
  • Zemickis, Robert. (1994). Forrest Gump. USA. Paramount Pictures.

 


[1] Murray Smith (1995) Engaging Characters, Fiction, Emotion and the Cinema.

[3] Attwood, T  1988 Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals

[4] Marks, L The Skin of Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses’ 2000

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