X + Y [ 2014]


Directed by Morgan Matthews, Written by James Graham

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Jo Yang

Over the last few years I have been friends with a few different folk who all had autism, on varying levels of the ‘spectrum’, where a high functioning autistic person is normally diagnosed with Aspergers and can cope fairly well with social situations. Then there is the other end of the spectrum, which is where we find young Nathan (a spectacular Asa Butterfield), diagnosed at six and told that he is special, unique. No one wants to be ordinary. Well, that is a lot easier said than realised, as I have heard that same line countless times and it does not make things any easier. Temporal lobe epilepsy is very similar to Aspergers and autism in some ways, most notably the abstract approach to math (I was always told off for not showing my ‘working out’ when doing long division and algebra) and especially the awkwardness and the way people with this disorder find it extremely hard to socialise. Things like the tone of voice, a gentle friendly touch, facial expressions and body language, concepts like sarcasm and insults…. these are things that are difficult to grasp for people with autism, especially when they are on the extreme end of the spectrum. While I don’t have autism, I do have temporal lobe epilepsy and I can remember all too well the bullying thrown my way, simply because sarcasm, insults, bullying… they were quite literally concepts I didn’t understand. So my response to any insult was mute. I was lucky though, as I was able to watch other people socialise and pick up clues. Socialising is still a hard thing for me to do, though compared to Nathan’s difficulties, I feel lucky that I have made progress.

Asa Butterfield is amazing in depicting a young person with autism

A film such as this risks being too sentimental and groan-inducing – however this is certainly not the case, as the story doesn’t go in directions you would expect from a film of this type, and the humour peppered throughout is light-hearted but genuinely funny. Most of the laughs come from Nathan’s tutor Martin, who has his own personal problems, meaning he can understand Nathan better than most as he is able to empathise. He understands the pain, the difficulty, the frustration, but of course for very different reasons. Despite this he is a constant source of laughs, his sense of humour is great, though poor Nathan continues to take his jokes word-for-word literally. This is how the autistic mind works: based on logic – it slowly becomes clear how hard it is for Nathan to understand the outside world and everything that comes with it. The second half of the film is an appropriate shift in tone as the humour, while still there, isn’t based around the social troubles that Nathan suffers from as it becomes more obvious how hard it is for Nathan to achieve simple tasks most of us take for granted.

When Nathan becomes involved in the maths competition, he learns that his skill at math is not what he thought it was. A fellow competitor informs him that he is simply average, and not special in any way within this group this group of children. And an interesting bunch they are, all with wildly different personalities and ways of talking about math. Nathan though, he is finding it hard to talk to anyone. Finally, he is told that “hiding at the back of the class won’t help” and is asked to explain a mathematical concept on a blackboard. Having excelled in math helped me a bit obviously, but the way he breaks it all down, almost anyone can understand what he is saying and the incredibly lateral thinking that is required to solve such a complex problem. It is a key scene where Nathan’s confidence receives the smallest boost, but one he certainly needed, and this kicks off the films final act which is unexpected and finishes with a wonderful scene that is sentimental and a bit cheesy, but given the movie’s premise, I can get over something so small. I admit I smiled as the credits rolled.


As mentioned in other reviews I have come across, this film accurately portrays the challenge a troubled child can be for parents. Whether it is autism, epilepsy or anything similar, parenting suddenly becomes a daunting task. This is established near the start of the film where Nathan’s mother tries to hold a young Nathan’s hand for an important event, but this scares Nathan, who decides to run away. One wonders how a parent could possibly feel in such a situation; frustration surely can’t be avoided, but this needs to be swallowed to adequately deal with a child like Nathan. A challenge for life, a parent’s love is tested to its limits when dealing with their child is so difficult – even something simple like communication, conversation, is nearly impossible. One gets the feeling his mother would burst into tears if Nathan answered “goodbye” just once after his mother says it. But the autistic mind deals with logic, and when thinking purely along those lines and not grasping the social and human element, Nathan doesn’t understand why he should answer to “goodbye” as it isn’t a question. This is especially heartbreaking after Nathan meets someone at the competition who he is slowly able to talk to, who waves goodbye enthusiastically to Nathan’s mother while Nathan’s face remains blank as he doesn’t even turn around. This movie brought back a lot of memories for me, both personal and of friends I have had and subsequently lost because they couldn’t deal with their illness and suddenly disappeared. It is a realistic depiction, though perhaps too light-hearted for the serious material being explored. There was some humour that I found slightly inappropriate, mainly in the second half, but if you are understanding the movie then they don’t come across as jokes anyway.

One of many examples of the great camerawork

Technically this movie is very well shot, with some fantastic camera angles, tracking shots and distorted colours, such as those on traffic lights, effectively portraying the difficultly Nathan has to simply deal with being outdoors. However due to the effective use of humour, mostly from Rafe Spall’s character as Nathan’s tutor and his early interactions with Nathan, the film is not downbeat. It does get progressively more dramatic as Nathan’s social skills slowly develop thanks to his tutor’s understanding of his illness, and because of the Chinese girl he meets at the competition, someone who doesn’t judge him in the way he is used to being treated – as a ‘weirdo’.

3.5/5 – X + Y is a light-hearted film for the most part, depicting a serious and commonly misunderstood illness. The film uses flashbacks to show Nathan as a young child to accompany current events. Nathan is barely in high school when he is given the opportunity to complete in this competition. As he says himself to his mother, “I don’t like anything more than maths”. And so begins this young man’s quest to compete in the International Mathematics Olympiad. It is a varied ride, funny at times, heartbreaking at others, while heartwarming when you least expect it. The variety within the film saves it from being an ‘oscar-bait’ type movie, as well as the fact that it is extremely well made. Honestly, I think this film makes The Imitation Game look pretty half-baked. It falls down slightly in that it doesn’t explore a couple of subplots, one including a girl Nathan meets who explains to him how math and music go hand in hand, another including another competitor, a cocky young one who loves to antagonise the other young people. This and some slightly over-the-top sentimental moments are the only flaws I found within this movie, and I’d definitely recommend it, though probably for a rental rather than at the cinemas.

27 Comments on “X + Y [ 2014]

    • there was one wanker who KEPT laughing at the kids awkward nature…. even through the more serious second half, he was making these loud gut laughs at everything this poor kid does. I wanted to belt the cunt seriously

      Liked by 2 people

      • Some people are just so ignorant and don’t understand the difficulties other people face. Sooner or later, their prejudice attitude will come back to bite them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I just think people need to learn to be more accepting of others. I mean everyone is different in some way, no one is the exact same as someone else.


      • yeah people like that I pity b/c important stuff like this just never strikes them as ‘important.’ They just think it’s fun and games b/c it doesn’t involve them.


      • …..Yep. I can’t really add much more to that cos you are spot on. They have no personal involvement and obviously zero ability to empathise.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks for sharing another great one. I really enjoyed Adam, about a man with asperger’s. As you know, it’s on the lighter end of the autism spectrum, so he has a job and a life, but struggles a lot with these same themes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t seen that so I’ll definetely have to check it out. My best mate has ‘Aspies’ as he calls it, higher functioning autism but….. not to be rude, but you can kinda tell he can’t read social cues well, like he’ll talk and talk no matter how disinterested I try to look haha, But I make the effort cos he’s such a good bloke.

      But I’ve had two other mates who had autism a bit worse and…. I think one is homeless and the other is ‘off the rails’ re- drugs and suicide attempts. Its a really fucked up illness, I consider myself very lucky


    • Thanks for the kind words Cindy! 🙂 It isn’t perfect by any means, but it effectively conveys the message it tries to put out. There was some really great camerawork and writing too, the movie ends unlike you would expect, and entire last act totally disobeys the stereotypes for this type of ‘genius crazy person’ films that come around now and then

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good one dude. I’ve read a lot of mixed things about this but definitely still eager to look it up sometime. I’m always fascinated with people with Asbergers/Autism. Not like they’re some science experiment or wonder of the world or anything but b/c I respect how they respond to the world around them. The world’s tough enough without having these kinds of problems. And often these individuals are quite brilliantly-minded folks.


    • Yeah totally man. Like I said in my post, my best mate has ‘Aspies’ as he says, and two other blokes I knew had autism a bit worse but they went off the radar completely. It fascinates me too but for different reasons – every doctor I have ever seen – every single one – has asked my parents if I had been diagnosed with ‘aspies’. They weren’t far off, TLE is just much rarer, and according to my doc, when I asked him he said Aspergers and TLE are almost identical in how they affect consciousness, hence why i’ve gotten on so well with the austistic folk I have met over the years. I’d honestly really wish to know where those other two guys are…. are they still alive? Its a super tough illness, as is TLE, and the parenting is CRUCIAL. I was very lucky in that regard, if my parents didn’t help me out when I needed it I’d probably be dead. Literally.

      Raise your glasses everyone – to good-hearted mums and dads who do their best to understand how their child’s brain interprets the world. This movie reallly showed that aspect well and reminded me of how my mum actively tries to talk ‘in my language’. She is just amazing.

      /End essay 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      • Beautifully said bro. I’ll cheers to that for sure. It may be 4:00 in the morning where I am right now but it’s definitely drinking time.

        I’ve never been diagnosed by anyone, and I’ve never really talked to anyone about it, but I’m fairly sure I have been suffering from bipolar disorder for many a year now. I’ll go through weeks and months of being giddy and upbeat as hell and then hit a major slump where I have very bad thoughts. I’m always afraid of having some lab coat tell me that I “officially” am someone who officially has such-and-suchdisorder. Maybe that’s me being ignorant, but I like to think


      • sry I’m on my phone and WordPress is a complete joke on mobile….

        Finishing that thought, I’d like to think I can take care of the problem on my own terms. If it ever does get very bad some day maybe I’ll think differently. It’s never gotten to a point where I haven’t been able to overcome with rational thinking so far though. In some ways I feel lucky like that. I know it’s not the case for everyone.


      • Yeah, when the giddy highs get to the point where you aint sleeping, you are behaving out of character and impulsively, talking non stop…. being up is like meth times a thousand. So yeah if you think your rational thinking is getting a bit bad I’d difinitely consider seeing someone. You need to shop around, there are so many shittys docs. But once you get one that understands what you are going through and trusts you…. mate, it can change your life. It did mine 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Really interesting to hear your personal take on this one Jordan and your comparisons with The Imitation Game. I really enjoyed this one – it felt like the subject was handled sensitively and the performances were moving. I especially liked the Spall and Hawkin’s relationship and the character of Luke.


  4. Fantastic review and I found everything you said so interesting (hate the fact you were bullied, or anyone for that matter)

    This sounds brilliant! I love the fact the humour isn’t too sentimental (I know what you mean!!)

    YOu probably have (and you’re probably sick of people recommending it – sorry) but have you read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? The protagonist is a young man with Asperger’s.


  5. I have not read that book, nor have I heard of it. Sounds like I would like it a lot.

    Thanks again for the kind words, really appreciate it. I think I kinda repressed the bullying cos talking about it doesn’t affect me at all…. it was just when I was younger, up til 16 or so. I was esentially Nathan in this film, taking every. word. literally. So jokes, sarcasm, insults… they were concepts that I literally didn’t understand. So if someone said something bad to me, I was mute, I didn’t know why they said that. And of course being mute just leads to more and more bullying! Anyways this movie wasn’t about that (though depicted it well in a few scenes).

    The humour is just right. Cos he is autistic you know that the way his brain processes words are going to be the butt of the jokes. Well, at least that what The Imitation Game did for laughs, which I actually found a little offensive personally. In this film though, the humour comes from Nathan’s reactions, yes, but its his reactions to his -hilarious- tutor. It treads that line well between too ‘awwwwwwww’ like and stuff that’d just be wrong given the subject matter. It isn’t perfect but its a fine film.


  6. Nice review here Jordan! Just saw it last week & about to post my review, we arrived at the same rating. I find the relationship between Nathan & his teacher Martin to be my fave parts of the film, the romance is too schmaltzy, but overall a decent flick!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I agree, the sentimentality went a bit overboard, but the relationship between the kid and his tutor was great and funny, plus the depiction of autism was very real in the way he is so often mute and socially awkward.

      I liked the ending though. Its cheesy yeah but its real. My mother tries so hard in such a similar way to the mother here, and especially that last scene. Well one of the last scenes anyways, the one in the restaurant. That reminded me so much of my own mother it really made me realise how goddamn lucky I am

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: THE DARK HORSE [2014] | epileptic moondancer

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