Several of my closest relatives, including my father, have Asperger’s syndrome. I’m sure that colored my reaction to Q&A, but then how many neurotypicals don’t know and love at least one person who’s wired differently than they are?
Q&A is the first in a series of animated shorts StoryCorps is creating from DIY interviews that have been collected since 2003. More than 60,000 people so far have contributed half that many stories, going in pairs to a StoryCorps booth (there are permanent ones in New York City, San Francisco and Atlanta and a van that travels around the rest of the country), where one person interviews the other about whatever they want to talk about. A number of animated StoryCorps movies began airing on PBS’s POV series starting today.
Q&A, which lasts a little less than four minutes, animates part of the interview Joshua Littman, who has Asperger’s, did with his mother, Sarah, when he was 12. A few titles at the beginning introduce the two and give Sarah’s definition of Aspergers (“born without social genes”) over images of solemn little Joshua. Then we hear Joshua’s English-accented (the family lived in England until he was 9) little-boy voice and his mother’s warm, reassuring responses over drawings of the two talking across a table or scenes depicting things they’re talking about.
Joshua’s direct and original questions, which are often typical of someone with Asperger’s (“Did I turn out to be the son you wanted when I was born?” “Did I meet your expectations?” “Do you have any mortal enemies?” “Have you ever lied to me?”) and his mother’s honest and insightful answers are sometimes funny and always deeply moving, saying a lot about how love works between a parent and child. When Joshua says he thinks people like his neurotypical little sister better than him, a note of caution catching in his voice, his mother’s answer is so perfect I wanted to bottle it and hand it out to everyone I know who doesn’t have an unconditionally loving parent.
A story like this could easily get sticky-sweet. The matter-of-fact title cards and nicely edited questions and answers help mitigate that problem, but what ultimately solves it is the cheerful and simplistic style of drawing chosen by animator Tim Rauch, who enlivens his simple compositions with glowing splashes of color. The stylized figures make the video look a little like a mobile Sunday comic strip. They may also be Rauch’s way of trying to convey an Asperger child’s-eye view, since Aspies have a hard time reading the social cues most people pick up on from facial expressions and body language.
Asperger’s started to penetrate the public consciousness sometime in the last five years or so, so heroes identified as having, or maybe having, Asperger’s are starting to show up in movies (most recently Adam and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). My favorite so far is Joshua, who’s Aspy enough to ask tough questions and lucky enough to have a mom with great answers.
Elise Nakhnikian has been writing about movies since the best way to learn about them was through alternative weeklies. She is currently the movie reviewer for TimeOFF. She also has her own blog, Girls Can Play, and a Twitter account.