This has been a surprising summer for a number of reasons, one of which is how dreadfully dull most of the big popcorn films have been. The other is the extraordinary ability of a handful of tiny, independent films to redeem the season utterly. These films, from Away We Go, (500) Days of Summer and now Adam, are the antidote to the summer blight, delivering smart, hilarious, moving and cosmically life-affirming stories.
For the first time in his life, Adam (Hugh Dancy) is alone. With the recent passing of his father, the sweet-natured, 30-something Adam, who suffers from a developmental disorder called Asperger's syndrome—a form of autism that, among other things, severally hampers social interaction—suddenly realizes that his well-ordered life comes with an expiration date.
Though he frequently shuns human contact and escapes into his own world—one dominated by the knotty conundrums of astrophysics (there is a particularly nice bit with a space suit)—Adam finds himself unusually drawn to his new neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne).
The cosmopolitan Beth is everything the sheltered Adam is not, and at first she is unsure how to react to Adam's stilted, clumsy and sometimes inappropriate overtures. But Beth sees something in Adam she has never found in any man before, and she allows herself—perhaps against her better judgment and most certainly against that of her caring but apprehensive parents (Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving)—to fall in love with the unconventional boy next door, drawing him out of his shell and changing both their lives forever.
Navigating the treacherous waters of romance is difficult enough in the most optimum conditions, let alone in a relationship beset by embarrassing social skills, an inability for emotional empathy, the hazards of miscommunication and, at times, even dangerous unpredictability. Adam cannot fathom basic trivialities but paradoxically can unravel great complexities. He is, in many ways, a child in a grown-up's body, unable to function properly in an adult world because he lacks the prerequisite skills necessary to grasp the complicated nuances of adult interaction. He is without guile, incapable even of comprehending sarcasm or irony. Like his namesake in the garden before the Fall, he does not possess the knowledge of good and evil. Adam does not know how to be deceptive; he lacks the cognitive reasoning required for duplicity.
But Adam and Beth are proof—cinematic proof anyway—that with a lot of patience and understanding, even something that appears doomed from the start can blossom into something meaningful and extraordinary. One of the things that makes Adam so special is that it in no way tries to duck the incredible obstacles to intimacy that its two leads face, nor the enormous lengths to which two people in their position must go to make so implausible a connection. And the end, which will surprise some but not others, is honest in a way that a film dealing with autism must be.
Adam is, by turns, both funny and touching, a film composed of numerous wispy, gossamer moments of delicate beauty, and statements, both literal and metaphorical, of powerful poignancy. The story, which on its face is a love story, resonates to a greater degree as a life story—the sometimes enigmatic journeys we take to get from here to there, and the often inscrutable hands we hold along the way.Discussion starters
- What did you learn about Asperger's syndrome from watching this film? Do you know anyone with the disorder? What is it like trying to relate to that person?
- What can we learn from this film about relationships in general? About relating to someone who is difficult? What does Beth teach us about relating to someone like this? What does Harlan teach us?
- How has the church in general—and your church in particular—done when it comes to integrating people with mental/emotional disorders? Do they feel loved or left out at your church? What can you do to help that situation?
- Should we feel sorry for people like Adam, who have Asperger's or any other mental illness/disorder? Why or why not? If all people are truly made in God's image, did God make "mistakes" with such people? Discuss.
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Adam is rated PG-13 for thematic material, sexual content and language. Once scene shows the main characters under the covers before and after having sex; nothing explicit is shown. Language is pretty mild throughout, except one brief scene where one of the characters drops the f-bomb twice.
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