Ron and Cornelia Suskind have reason to be more grateful than most parents. In 1994, their son Owen was diagnosed with autism. Owen had been a lively and playful toddler for the first couple of years of his life, but in late 1993 he 'disappeared': he stopped speaking, except occasionally in gibberish, and wobbled around with decreased motor skills. The eventual diagnosis was a hard blow for the Suskinds – misconceptions about autism were rife in the 1990s – and the period of adjustment was difficult. But relief and help came from an unexpected place.
Disney cartoons appealed to Owen because, as journalist Ron says, they involve 'exaggerated figures with exaggerated expression, exaggerated emotion, and it was easy for him to interpret all this.' There's also the repetitive element afforded by VHS: almost all children find comfort in entering, again and again, a fantasy world that doesn't change. But Owen's love of The Little Mermaid and Bambi became more than a hobby. Through intensive exposure to films like these, he learned how to relate to the frightening world beyond, and how to express himself within it.
It was an extraordinary development, and it's best to watch Roger Ross William's documentary to learn what actually occurred. Williams recounts this development through first-hand accounts and home-video footage, but also introduces the adult Owen, and follows him as he moves out of his parents' house for the first time. The juxtaposition of Owen's difficult early years – the despair, the breakthrough, the gradual progress – with his negotiations of adult reality is almost unbearably poignant, and an excellent demonstration of how we all use narratives to understand our lives.
|What||Life, Animated film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
09 Dec 16 – 10 Feb 17, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|