My name is Nathanael Hood and I’m autistic. And in my twenty-six years on this earth I have never seen a film that treated autism with the same level of respect and dignity as Matt Fuller’s AUTISM IN LOVE. It examines four subjects: Lenny, a twenty-something living with his parents who agonizes over his inability to get a girlfriend; Dave and Lindsey, two Autistics who have managed to overcome their disabilities to sustain an eight-year relationship; Stephen, a middle-aged man with severe autism who has recently lost his wife of 20 years to ovarian cancer. They form a compelling triptych of Seeking Love, Finding Love, and Losing Love.
All four subjects range over different areas of the Autistic spectrum. I don’t think this was Miller’s intention, but AUTISM IN LOVE proves one of the most uncomfortable truths about living with autism: the more normal you can act and the more attractive you are physically, the more non-Autistic people are willing to accept you. Lindsey passes as the most “normal” on account of how you can only tell she is Autistic when she talks.
Dave is a bit wiry but nonetheless very handsome. If he wasn’t plagued with incessant physical tics and a rigidly scientific perspective on life (he has even worked out a mathematical formula that can determine how romantically compatible two people are), he could have been a ladykiller. So it comes as no surprise that they eventually get together and find happiness. Lenny and Stephen, however, are not so lucky. Pimply, hairy, and fat, Lenny is a social recluse paralyzed by deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred. The most intense moment of the film is a scene where he has a break-down on camera and confesses that he can never find happiness because attractive, independent women will always be “above him” and the thought of dragging someone down to his level is repulsive. Stephen, on the other hand, lucked out and married another autistic person. But with her gone, nobody harbors any illusions that he could ever live completely independently again.
“Do you still love Gita,” Fuller asks.
“No. Gita is gone so I don’t love her anymore,” Stephen responds mechanically, jerking his head about like a bird. Could he ever love again? It’s impossible to say.
But the thing that most astonished me about AUTISM IN LOVE was how it ends. Fuller doesn’t rely on a traditional happy ending with all four subjects finding romantic fulfillment. Instead, it ends with all four moving on with their lives: Lenny manages to find a job, the first step on his quest for self-sufficiency and independence; Lindsey and Dave get engaged; Stephen is reasonably content with his life and eager for his next shift at the post office. A lesser filmmaker would consider Lenny and Stephen’s endings sad ones. But Fuller understands that for people with autism, being content with your life and moving forward, no matter how slowly, is an achievement of Olympian proportions.