More thoughts on autism inspired by the X-men film trilogy

In my last post, I put down some very hasty thoughts about the upcoming film X-Men III and how its theme mirrors somewhat the question of ‘curing’ autism. The other films in the series, especially X-Men 2, offer some interesting insight as well.

For those of you not familiar with the film series, here is a short summary of the major themes:

  • X-Men: As the number of mutants in the population rapidly increases, there is fear in the human segment of the population of these mutants and their various differences and special abilities. The government (in this case, U.S.) is exploring various legislation to monitor and control these mutants. One especially powerful mutant (Magneto), who as a child was a holocaust survivor, decides to take the fight to the leaders of the world with a plan to turn them all into mutants themselves, so they would ‘understand.’ A group of ‘good-guy’ mutants – the X-Men – is determined to find a way for mutants and humans to live together peacefully. Despite society’s fear/hatred of them, the X-Men take on the task of preventing Magneto’s plan from succeeding.
  • X2 X-Men United: Fear, caused in large part by a lack of understanding of ‘mutantism,’ is resulting in more human desire to track and control mutants and their activities. One somewhat rogue military officer, who has a mutant son he unsuccessfully tried to ‘cure,’ takes it as his personal mission to wipe-out (as in kill) all mutants. The good guys (the X-men) and the bad guys (Magneto, et al) must come together to avert this attempted genocide. Along the way, the bad guys try to turn the tables and wipe out all non-mutants, with the good guys now having to intervene again on behalf of those that would destroy them. Though full of action, this movie also addresses the social aspects of ‘awareness’ and ‘acceptance’ of those that are different.
  • X-Men 3: Not yet released, the trailer for the film hints at the looming war. This summary comes from IMDB: In X-Men: The Last Stand, the final chapter in the X-Men motion picture trilogy, a “cure” for mutancy threatens to alter the course of history. For the first time, mutants have a choice: retain their uniqueness, though it isolates and alienates them, or give up their powers and become human. The opposing viewpoints of mutant leaders Charles Xavier (Stewart), who preaches tolerance, and Magneto (McKellen), who believes in the survival of the fittest, are put to the ultimate test — triggering the war to end all wars.

There are two scenes in particular from X-Men 2 that stand out in my mind. The first is a discussion between a teen-age boy and his mother when she first discovers he is a mutant, the second is a conversation between two mutants from different sides of the good-bad divide.

One misconception about the mutants in the X-Men world and their abilities is that they are all ‘super-heroes.’ While it is true that some of the powers require a conscious effort to invoke (like the ability to control the weather or transfigure into anyone else), many of the abilities are always “on,” uncontrollable by the individual with the mutant ability (such as the eyes that shoot out a destructive beam of light unless covered by special goggles or the girl whose touch to your bare skin will slowly drain your life force). And some have a combination of the two, typically expressed as a controllable power and an uncontrollable physical appearance.

The conversation between mother and son occurs when the boy comes home unexpectedly from the boarding school he attends. The school happens to be a covert school for kids with mutant abilities; the mother thinks it is a prep-school for gifted (in the conventional sense) children. When the boy tells his mother the truth, and demonstrates his mutant ability (btw, he looks like a regular human), his mother’s reaction is to ask, “Have you ever tried to not be a mutant?” The underlying message, to me, was “You look normal, can’t you just act normal?”

The conversation between mutants comes when the good guys and bad guys are temporarily allied in their struggle to survive. One of the mutants, Nightcrawler, has the ability to transport himself (think Star Trek) at will. He is physically distinguished by his dark blue skin and demonic tail. The other, Mystique, has the ability to mimic others physically. Her natural appearance is scaly blue skin. Here’s a paraphrasing of their conversation:

N: I’ve heard you can imitate anyone, even their voice.
M: (using N’s voice) Even their voice.
N: Then why don’t you pretend to be like them all the time?
M: Because we shouldn’t have to.

Like the world of autism some appear to be normal but don’t act it and some are physically different as well. Why can’t they all just “act normal”, regardless of their appearance, and especially when they appear normal?

Because they shouldn’t have to.

tagged as: Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, X-Men

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