Directed by Roger Ross Williams
Written by Ron Suskind (based on the book by)
Life Animated is a simple documentary about a neurological disease that affects millions of people. It is hard to not feel moved by this sort of true story, one worthy of telling, and a lot of it hit home for me as my rare type of epilepsy is extremely similar to high-functioning autism. But what hit me the hardest was how easy I have it, compared to the life that Owen has lived, who is the subject of this documentary.
Talking heads, home videos and animated sequences all blend together wonderfully to paint the story of Owen and how he grew up. We first meet him as a 23 year old at the beginning of the movie, where he seems happy, and as the family recount what happened when he was a young child, he will sometimes offer his perspective of what it was like back then ie – a world of noise and colour that he couldn’t understand, a world that overloads his senses. Voices that were ‘garbled’.
Enter Disney, Owen’s gate to the real world. He couldn’t understand the world around him, but animated films helped him understand basic principles about life. When the family realised what was happening, they began to speak in “Disney Dialogue” to him, which opened him up. Their silent child was now suddenly able to have conversations about who we are, about growing up. All via Disney’s work, which of course Owen has memorised.
We are introduced to his girlfriend, and he has his share of struggles when we see the story from the current perspective – which is a journey in itself, in addition to the journey of his younger life that his parents speak of. The girlfriend isn’t a useless plot device either, it leads to a panic that to most people would seem trivial. But to Owen, it means everything, right at that second.
This kid would not be where he is today without his parents, and it is interesting to see how he gets along as a 23 year-old, attempting to move out and be independant. It is almost impossible to root for the guy, he has so much heart and such a kind soul.
Of course though, this doco really brings to light to power of the cinema. In my opinion it is the ultimate form of art, and here we can clearly see that the family-friendly works of Disney helped Owen understand life, what friends are, how to be himself. Everything he learns are all important and poignant points about growing up and trying to make sense of the world.
And we can all learn from that – film, if good enough, can help shape how we see the world, what our beliefs and values are, and how we look at other people.
Infinitely interesting, I can’t recommend this enough. I have a personal attachment to it obviously, but taking into account the variety of talking heads, the wonderfully and apt animated sections and the home videos, this feels like a must see documentary that has enough variety to feel somewhat similar to how the Kurt Cobain documentary was put together, though not as stylish or visually interesting.
Anyone with the faintest interest in autism or even psychology in general will get a lot out of this; it is inspirational and will make you realise that things could be worse.
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