“Sheltered by his grandparents, Luke, a young man with autism, is thrust into a world that doesn’t expect anything from him. But Luke is on a quest for a job and true love. And he isn’t taking no for an answer.” —Alonso F. Mayo
The story of Luke is a coming of age story celebrated by multiple film festival awards all over the country. It starts off with the death of his grandmother who was his primary caregiver. From the very first scenes, we realize his grandfather expresses symptoms of dementia which leaves Luke getting thrusted into a family who doesn’t really know want him nor know what do do with him. This change leads to Luke’s turning point in life and through his grandfather’s words. He begins his journey to find a job, find a girl and “screw”.
The film is marked by crude humour and unfiltered comments as we follow along from the point of view of someone with higher functioning autism who has to face the world that demeans him in every way. Not only can people by quite impatient but also tend to be very mean when faced with situations they don’t understand and have pre-existing concepts about. The cruel and low-expectational responses some people take towards people living with autism is no different. I urge you to watch this film and use it to re-imagine some of the misconceptions you may have or have witnessed of people with disabilities. Try to see this film through Luke’s eyes and find the important lessons and benefits he brings despite the many misinformed ideas people have about autism.
Regarding the overall film, I have to say I was thoroughly engaged with the film and Luke’s journey. So much so, that its abrupt ending stunned me and made me wish there was more “filling to the pie”. Despite my dissatisfaction with the ending, The leading actor Lou Taylor Pucci did a wonderful performance in this film and did a great job portraying someone on the higher functioning end of the spectrum. I appreciated the film’s ability to bring forth a viewpoint of Autism we don’t really get to see very often. Luke was someone who through being himself and with his autism transformed the lives of those around him along with his own transformation transitioning into adulthood. Luke wanted the things that everyone else had. His autism made his wants a challenge because in our world, people try to limit and erase the expectations and desires of those on the spectrum and with other disabilities. Luke faced these challenges in his own unique way and shut down some of these limitations. An example of this lies at a pivotal point Midway in the film. After Luke’s boss Zack, actor Seth Green, tries to essentially claim that he [Luke] has no place in the world other than that of pity and sorrow for others. Luke takes a stand and held himself high by basically telling his boss that he does have a purpose and that his boss is wrong.
This leads to a discussion about the film’s use of antagonizers for Luke. To my understanding, the film creators did what they did to show the crueler side of what people with disabilities face in a crude humour sort of way. Personally, I feel that his boss could have done with less abusive tactics and less of the derogatory terms. It felt very intense for the type of film being presented, however, I do understand that their dramatics was to emphasize that there are people who really do treat people with disabilities in such an awful way. There are other elements of cognitive functioning in those with ASD I believe the film creators included to try to give a more accurate portrayal of the disorder in media. Some of the topics the creators hit on in the movie are: systemization, the use of heuristics, and affective forecasting in neurotypicals and those on the spectrum.
Systemization is a way of brain functioning that involves processing and analyzing of “systems” such as machines compared to humans. Systems have rules that lead to predictive behavior. There are many instances in the film in which Luke expresses his need for rules and systems. A strong example from the movie being that Luke was left a set of rules on the fridge and clearly saying she’d be back at 2 pm. Luke set his watch with specific hours everyday marking things he needed to do paying close attention to exact times and repetition of steps and directions aloud to help him remember. People on the autism spectrum use these systems and rules to predict behavior and outcomes. However, most human beings, especially neurotypical people, aren’t always predictable. Someone can be extremely upset one moment and fine the next, which can be hard for people (with or without disabilities) to follow. The concept of emotionality is well understood by people who use the system of empathizing. Most neurotypicals have the ability to switch between these two systems – they understand when it is appropriate to think of things concretely/logically compared to with emotions and abstract understanding. Feelings, empathy, body language, facial expressions are all interrelated, and are very difficult for most people on the autism spectrum to understand and recognize.
There are multiple instances in the film showing Luke’s initiative to better understand social interactions, body language, and facial expressions as well as socially appropriate phrases such as “the weather is very nice today” and “thank you.” These are things he doesn’t quite understand but knows are important to communicating with people. There is a particular event in the film regarding Luke
meeting his mother that ties well the concept of Luke’s systemizing and deficit in understanding emotional expression. Throughout this event, Luke works really hard on learning the things listed above and follows each social rule he learned about. He got a new outfit and tried to look his best and act his best to attempt to reconnect with the mother who left him when he was younger. When he finally gets his meeting, she gets overwhelmed and leaves him once again marking the end of Luke’s meeting with his mother. He cries out “Please don’t go I don’t understand I followed all the rules!” as she walks away from him. This is a very clear portrayal of the disconnect between those with autism’s ability to empathize and deal with unpredicted behavior as well as their vulnerability to obstacles because their systems to solve problems are based on their mental sets that rely heavily on routine.
Emotions and clear processing of our own and others’ emotions is also a huge factor in our ability to make clear decisions. For a lot of people, we predict our future emotions to help us make decisions. This can be difficult in people with ASD as well, because their decisions on what to say to others and what to do in public settings are dependent on how well they are able to read the emotions of around them. This is known as affective forecasting. For most people, this is often inaccurate, because people under and overestimate how much things will affect them later. I believe the movie did a good job at showing that someone with ASD also has this struggle of making decisions based on poor predictions. There were multiple times Luke tried to think about his future and the things he valued, and compared them to how they would make him feel later. Using the same example of his interaction with his mother, Luke believed it would make him feel good in the long run to make the decision to push his interaction with his mother after not seeing her for most of his life. However, when he was actually put in that position, he did not respond in anyway as he predicted he would prior.
Expectations are a huge part of how people view and process the world, disability or not. We make judgments, decisions, and encode based off of the knowledge we already have in store. Our thinking is driven based on our knowledge of the world and its context and is facilitated by our ability to use heuristics. In representative heuristics we expect people to resemble other people in a category meaning we expect each each person to be representative of the overall category. As one can imagine, this leads to many errors in judgement and thinking. A great example being the way Luke’s family and others saw and talked about him. They expected nothing more other than their preconceived idea of what they expect autism to look like. His boss showed his heuristic to make judgements and act cruelly towards Luke and none of his family nor boss thought he was capable of anything. They all expected him to act “all autistic” and have no ability to care for himself nor work. This misconception is based off of lots of negative misconceptions about autism spectrum disorder and the many variations in function for a person with ASD. Another type of heuristic error can be the opposite, expecting an entire category will have the same properties as one individual. One of the businessmen Luke has a meeting with asks him “Can you multiply huge numbers or memorize entire books? Do you have any special abilities?” This expressed his belief that those with autism are always exceptionally gifted in some “abnormal” way because some people with autism happen to have these abilities. These are two main ways people in the film approached Luke’s autism.
For now, we’ve looked at the film in the light of Luke and his ASD along with his relationships with systemizing, empathy and problem solving. We’ve further delved into expectations related to heuristics and the two main ways people approached Autism and people with disabilities in the film. It’s important to learn more and think for meaningfully when confronted with different people. You may not realize the challenges and scrutiny people face. knowing about one’s own expectations and thought processes can help lead to better realizing that your way of seeing the world can be completely different to someone elses and that they may not be able to do the things you take for granted. The film helped me learn more about my role in societal expectation of people with disabilities, I hope you can learn more too.
Sources and more information: