I didn’t set out with much hope when I began watching “The Accountant”. As the mother of two children on the autism spectrum, I’ve found that most of the information that is passed around in the news media and that surfaces in Hollywood’s major pictures does more harm than good. In fact, I planned to skip this film, until a friend watched it and asked for my thoughts about the idea presented that autism is “differently gifted”. To fully grasp what she now understood, I watched the movie.
“The Accountant” is well written, and one of the better stories to come out of Hollywood for some time. Written by Bill Dubuque, it does an excellent job of weaving the “facts” of autism with an incongruous setting. In the first few minutes after the title is shown, we learn that autism affects 1 in 68 children* (from the CDC). We see the strain between the parents as they try to decide how best to help their son. We see a memorable example of the puzzle, with it’s missing piece, the “symbol” of autism. We watch as The Accountant’s brother remains a silent witness through most of the movie, which is a nod to the siblings of those with autism, who can be “lost in the shuffle” and have a first row seat to the struggles within their families. This struggle includes the abandonment of the family by the wife and mother, statistically it’s usually fathers who leave.
We see The Accountant interact as an adult with his customers, as well as Dana Cummings, a young accountant who has discovered that someone has been “cooking the books”. In her attempts to be friendly, she interrupts The Accountant’s lunch routine, and we see him struggle to maintain his composure at being thrown off the task, while using memorized facts in conversation. We also see his failure to understand her use of an idiom (“where fun goes to die”), which is characteristic of those on the spectrum. We see The Accountant go home, where he finishes his schedule by using what is known as a “sensory diet”: he blares loud music, turns on flashing lights, and applies deep pressure to his legs using a roller. He also takes Zoloft, which isn’t a medication that is given to treat autism specifically, but treats conditions that may come with it. In this case, depression and/or social anxiety. Eventually, The Accountant responds to Dana’s assertion that his “life is unique”.
“It’s not unique. I have a form of high functioning autism which means I have an extremely narrow focus and a hard time abandoning tasks once I’ve taken them up. I have difficulty socializing with other people even though I want to.”
These are just a few examples of the many, many things that “The Accountant ” gets right. This brings me, of course, to my biggest concern with “The Accountant”. A handful of lines between the characters Raymond King and Marybeth Medina, who are trying to solve the “puzzle” of The Accountant’s real identity.
Marybeth: “He’s a f***ing killer.”
Raymond King: “…the why, though, that I’ve got. Someone breaks his moral code.”
I want to be clear that the statement made by Mr. King isn’t a factual one, and I don’t believe it’s intended to be by the writer. The story gradually reveals to us that The Accountant throughout is doing what he believes to protect and defend those that he loves. His most violent actions are tied to love. He isn’t a ticking time bomb or a loose cannon. My concern, however, is that moviegoers may take this statement as fact, and react with fear to autism. News media outlets perpetuate this fear at times when there are mass shootings. Reporters speculate that because someone was a loner is automatically equates autism, it goes to “print” or they say it on air, and there it remains. I’ve never seen anyone retract irresponsible statements such as these, and they *do* cause harm, because it impacts how others define autism.
This fear also surfaces, in a subtle way, in the ending minutes of The Accountant. The movie closes where it began, at Harbor Neuroscience, a place that many parents of autistic children would sell their souls to send their children to, or to have it exist in their state. We see another set of parents, here to discuss their child with the doctor. It’s in this scene that he makes the comment about autism being “differently gifted”, and comments negatively about IQ tests** as a standard of intelligence. The parents mention that their child was “missing” and that they “Hoped he would catch up”, common statements that are made by parents of children on the spectrum, including myself. The doctor is very encouraging to the parents, and makes the following statement.
“I guarantee you that if we allow the world to set expectations for our children, they’ll start low, and they’ll stay there.” He’s right, of course, and we see this play out when the unnamed child is left to interact with Justine, the doctor’s nonverbal “low functioning” daughter. The parents don’t know what to think of Justine, and the mother seems fearful when she asks if her child is sure he wants to stay. Justine communicates by computer, and the child is delighted when the computer’s voice speaks to him. The viewer should then realize that they see her as a little more human than before. It’s true that in many cases, autism is just differently gifted, however, The Accountant in this instance shows savant like abilities in the area of math, and this simply isn’t true of autistics as a whole. Some with autism are just ordinary people with social struggles, others have epilepsy, too, and may never interact with anyone, or make some progress, regress, progress, regress, etc. Some, like Justine, will be viewed as “low functioning” because of problems with motor control, and brushed aside because they can’t speak. This would be someone like my son, if you’re curious. He has good gross motor control, but speech remains difficult, as do find motor skills. I watch time after time as adults and children dismiss him because he can’t respond, and then begin to ignore him completely. He is all too easily brushed aside, because he can’t speak up for himself in every instance of social engagement. My daughter is younger, and though delayed in speech, seems to be catching on to it quicker.
It’s disturbing to me to see in various forms of media, that we continue to view people as important or of having worth, only if they can contribute, or talk, walk, etc. And we react in fear to what we don’t understand. “The Accountant” does an excellent job of revealing that fear. So. If you haven’t seen it, or if you’re curious about “autism” stuff, watch it. Even better if you watch it with the parent of an autistic child who can point out what you’re seeing, and then discuss it with you. Keep in mind that it *is* a violent movie, and there are graphic scenes. And keep an eye out for the extra who is supposed to be dead, but follows Raymond King’s shoes as he walks by near the end of the movie.
*The data used by the CDC to arrive at this number is from 2010-2012, and only from a few states. It is believed that the number is now as high as 1 in 45 children by other sources.
**Note that IQ tests aren’t used to diagnose autism spectrum disorders, although they can be given for other reasons.