When you think, act, and feel different from so many people around you, it’s easy to feel like the sore thumb, like the outcast, from your peer group, from society on a whole. But just imagine that you are autistic, and you’re living in a world that makes no sense to you, but everything keeps swirling about with zero translation or control.
This is what Owen Suskind felt like early in life, and the life of this young autistic mind is told in Life, Animated, the newest documentary from Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams.
Very early in his life, and much to the dismay of his family and many doctors, Owen was unable to speak unable to convey any true emotions or feelings. He was quickly diagnosed as autistic, but as the disease was less understandable at the time, it was near impossible to find a solution to his muteness. Owen’s only outlet was Disney animated movies, which he would spend hours watching and dancing along to. It was not until one day when he tried to make his big brother Walt feel better, reciting a whole line from a Disney flick, that his parents realized that Owen knew all the dialogue from these often moralistic tales, and could remarkably use those lines to convey how he felt.
Now as an adult, we follow Owen as he graduates from his special school and is able to have his own apartment and interact with the world all on his own. And his journey in doing so, complete with wonderfully animated flashbacks that convey how he felt (or must have felt) while growing up, is as heartbreakingly touching as it is impressive. Owen himself is quite the charmer, even while his obsession with Disney grows annoying (but understandable) at times, as his autistic mind also develops into quite a poetic one.
During one the film’s most difficult moments, Owen asks, “Why is life full of unfair pain and tragedy?” The answer may lay in the film’s title, but its poignancy is still biting and everlasting. Director Williams is putting forth the best work of his career, once again bringing out an outcast with a strong personality, as he did with Prudence from his Oscar-winning short documentary Music by Prudence (Williams was indeed the first African-American to win the Academy Award in that category – and had a memorable Oscar moment to boot!) to the forefront and making the world of the audience a better place for it.
BaL Festival Rating: 5/5
Director: Roger Ross Wiliams
With Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind, Cornelia Suskind, Walter Suskind
Country: United States
Runtime: 92 min.
Screenings and Venues:
Friday April 22, 6:00pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park
Saturday April 23, 3:45pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park
The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 13 – 24 in New York City