A Storyville documentary: How an autistic young man emerged from his isolation by using Disney animated films as an emotional road map to reconnect with the wider world.
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Ron, do I have to keep my hand pressed on the red button?
-I don't have to keep my hand pressed on the red button?
"..shut his eyes tight shut. He huffed and puffed."
"Oh, but the candle barely flickered..."
-Can you guys say goodnight to me?
-Can you say, "Goodnight, Mommy"?
OK, blow Mommy a kiss.
HE HUMS A TUNE
-Pick Owen up.
-Get ME up.
-OK! One big, happy family about to go into the water!
-You want to say hi to Mommy?
-Want to watch a video!
-You want to watch a video?
Well, I'm taking a video of you guys reading...
-..The Biggest Birthday Cake In The World...
Last book reading, which we do every single night.
Walt Disney Pictures.
OK, our next film is a wonderful children's film.
And the Academy Award...
So what we're going to do today,
when you're out in the community, right?
When you're... Next year,
when you're making appointments and having to find locations,
you always have to be...
So when we're walking through the community,
what's our posture for walking?
-OK. What about our chins?
-Where are they?
Where's the safest place to cross,
go back and forth across Main Street?
I, I need help here.
OK. Who wants to help him?
-I'll do it.
So next year you'll be more independent,
and you'll have more choices to make.
I've got to teach my son... a lesson.
'My name is Owen Suskind.
'I'll be graduating in a month.'
Then I'll be moving and living into an apartment of my own.
..since Beauty And The Beast...
-Owen, just got back from the grocery store.
-Oh, that's great.
-What would you like for lunch?
-Grilled ham and cheese.
Excuse me, I need to find...
Your apples, right?
-Owen, your sandwich is over there, bud.
-Thanks. And I'll get three "Chips Ahoy!" cookies.
You've got a big rite of passage coming with graduation.
You're going to be out of school.
And we can start thinking a little more about the future?
-How does that feel?
-A little nervous and a little exciting.
A little nervous and a little exciting!
GENTLE ORCHESTRA MUSIC PLAYS
-'I'm so glad you came back tonight. I might never have seen you.
'Because I have to grow up tomorrow.
-Tonight's my last night in the nursery.
'But that means no more stories.
'No, I won't have it!
-But where are we going?
'I'll run him through.
'Come on, everybody.
'Don't stand there, you bilge rats!'
Get those scurvy brats!
Daddy and Owen...fighting with swords in the leaves.
-Owen, who are you?
-I'm Peter Pan. And you're Captain Hook.
Oh, I'm Captain Hook. You're Peter Pan.
OK. Come on, Pan, you demon.
'There's a video we came across, and then once we found it,
'we couldn't stop watching it.'
Oh, thank you, thank you.
That's very chivalrous of you.
Now, in a way, it's just an unremarkable video
of a dad and a son playing.
'I'm chasing Owen around. He's chasing me around.
'He's Peter Pan. I'm Captain Hook.'
'At the time we shot it, I'm in my early 30s.'
I'm a reporter for The Wall Street Journal,
and our life is taking shape just the way we'd wanted.
We had two beautiful boys. We'd just had our second boy.
We had a little, tiny house, but it was just, like, our dream house.
-You want to say hi to Mommy?
You know, everything was falling into place.
'But all of a sudden, at three years old...'
Goodbye, Peter Pan!
Owen just started changing really fast.
You know, he wasn't sleeping - that was the first thing.
He'd be up in the middle of the night,
and then he'd be up ALL night.
His motor skills were deteriorating,
and then his language processing broke down.
He just started reciting this gibberish.
'It was hard for me to understand what people were saying.'
They were all garbled.
-VOICES ECHO: Owen!
It's like...we're looking for clues to a kidnapping.
Someone kidnapped our son.
We went to the paediatrician, but he had no idea what he was looking at.
He said, "You're out of my league."
So we go see the specialist.
It's not a paediatrician's office like you're used to going to.
It's one that has a special room with a window
to observe children like guinea pigs.
The doctor has Owen walk down a long hall from me to Cornelia,
and I just want to say, you know,
"Just walk like you used to walk."
Like, I'm whispering that to him.
"OK, buddy, just walk like you know how to walk."
And I let go of him, and...
..he just weaves down the hall,
like someone walking with their eyes shut.
And he gets to the end, and Cornelia grabs his hand.
I remember literally just, like,
holding him in a bear hug and just thinking, you know...
"I'm just going to hold you so tight,
"and love you so much that whatever is going on will go away."
The doctor says, "He has a pervasive developmental disorder."
And she says the word "autism".
It was devastating. It was completely devastating.
Then after a few minutes, she says,
"Some of the kids never get their speech back.
"They don't ever talk again."
And we just looked down at him and the kid playing on the rug,
looking at his hands, and the doctor saying,
"So let me explain what autism is."
Look what we have here! What is this, Owen?
What do you have here?
Hey, what do these look like? Oh, let's get this away.
All right. All right, we need to stop sillies.
You need... Owen.
-I first met Owen when he was three years old.
At that point, I think that Ron and Cornelia were devastated.
I think that it shattered their ideal vision of who this child
is going to become.
The image of autism in the early 1990s was not terribly flattering.
So they're looking for any glimmer of hope
that there are other possibilities out there, besides an adult
that will be forever dependent.
The child with autism is easily overstimulated.
They don't filter the constant stimuli that come in
on a daily basis.
This world is just too intense for their brains,
and that's always what I felt about Owen,
especially when he was a tiny baby.
You know, the vacuum cleaner would go on, the visual stimulation,
the auditory stimulation.
So imagine how difficult it would be
to just do the simplest things
if you have this constant noise in your brain.
Owen... Owen... Owen...
When your child goes into their adult living,
they've also been in an environment
where the adults have been telling them a lot.
So now it's going to be YOUR turn in a couple of months
to start YOU telling them things about what YOU want to do and what,
you know, what you're comfortable with...
what you don't want to do, what you do want to do.
So a lot of those choices that maybe
you only had one or two choices here,
now you're going to have lots of choices.
I have some concerns as far as safety.
Owen tends to walk with his chin down and plough ahead,
like when he comes out between cars in a parking lot
or going to cross the street.
what would you say is your greatest concern about next year?
That I have to do stuff all on my own.
-That's a concern?
-To change, right?
-But is it worth it not having a staff live with you?
-A little bit.
-How do you feel?
-I would say a little nervous,
cos it's a new thing for me, doing my own things on my own.
Yeah, this is a big step. This is your
step through the adult door. Now you're no different than me.
So you kind of...
All these decisions are going to be you.
They're going to be for me.
You got to remember,
even though it might seem like you're kind of on your own,
and there's no dorm counsellor...
-We're still just a call away, right?
Pretty excited of what's going to happen for you, bud.
-You got a lot more chapters to write.
-A lot more chapters to write.
-I'll be the tosser.
-Watch how I'm doing it.
-If you hold it in your hand, like this...
-Gus, over there.
-Good boy, come on. Good boy.
-Come on, Gus.
-Come on, buddy.
-Where is it, Gus?
There's Mommy and O.
Having a little pizza.
VOICES ECHO AND DISTORT
We're about a year along into his silence.
The only thing we seem to be able to do as a family is the one thing
Owen and Walter liked to do before the onset of the autism.
They loved to watch the Disney animated movies.
We realised that was the only thing
that was keeping Owen calm and making him happy,
and so Owen and his older brother Walter would watch these together.
I didn't know what autism was.
I just knew that autism made Owen the way he is.
So autism kind of just meant different...
So Disney was my chance to have Owen really light up around me
and it was something we could come together over.
So, one day, we're up in the bedroom.
We're watching The Little Mermaid.
And, you know, Owen would be speaking sort of gibberish,
and he had been saying, "Juicervose, juicervose, juicervose."
He's murmuring something... He's saying, "Juicervose, juicervose."
Now, Cornelia thinks he wants more juice.
She gives him the sippy cup. He doesn't want it. He knocks it over.
Owen's watching the part where Ariel, the mermaid,
has to trade something to become human.
# Go ahead
# Make your choice
# I'm a very busy woman and I haven't got all day
# It won't cost much Just your voice. #
Owen rewinds. Walt's like, "Owen, just watch the movie."
Owen rewinds a second time.
Third time, Cornelia grabs me and says, "It's not 'juice'."
I said, "What?" "It's not 'juice' - it's 'just'!"
# Just your voice. #
I grab Owen, and I say, "Just your voice."
And he says, "Juicervose, juicervose, juice..."
It's the first time he looks at me in a year.
Of course, we read every possible meaning
into the fact he picks those three words.
"Just your voice."
A silent child.
The first thing he says.
'He's still in there.
'He's still in there.
'We go and see a doctor,'
and we tell him about our amazing "juicervose" moment, and he's like,
"Well, let me explain this to you. This is... You'd better sit down.
"I know you're very pumped up here, but this is called echolalia."
This isn't like a breakthrough, you know.
It's... It's echolalia,
which is just the repeating of language that they hear.
And I said, "Like a parrot?"
And he's like, "Well, kind of, yeah."
Is it possible he knows what he's saying?
And the doctor says, "Maybe.
"But there's no way of knowing, and the thinking is, probably not."
At that point, Cornelia and I were set on a rescue mission
to get inside this prison of autism...
..and pull him out.
OK. OK, listen up.
Soon as everyone gets here, we will begin.
-Could I just recommend
that instead of saying, "Listen up,"
-you say, "May I have your attention, please?"
-May I have your attention,
please? When everyone gets here, we'll begin.
'I started a Disney club so I can get to
'know more people, and they can be around me,
'so I can be more popular.'
Tonight we're watching some of The Lion King,
because this year is the big 20th anniversary of the original release
-of The Lion King.
Not only am I a big Disney fanatic,
but I also like to play magical movie scores on this piano.
MUSIC STARTS: Circle Of Life
'We watch parts of Disney animated films and discuss them and see what
'they're REALLY about in our lives.'
SINISTER MUSIC PLAYS
-'That's not my father. It's just my reflection.'
ALONG WITH THE MOVIE: Look. You see?
You see? He lives in you.
-'I'm not who I used to be.'
-'Remember who you are.
'You are my son and the one true king.
'Remember who you are.
'No, please, don't leave me! Father!
-Don't leave me.'
OK. What was Mufasa teaching Simba?
-They're teaching us that there's more to you
than you ever would see.
And there's more than meets the eye, right?
More than meets the eye.
Their parents are teaching how, when you grow up, to...
to be on your own and...how to learn how to, like, live on your own.
Yeah. It's important that when our parents no longer can help us,
that we have to figure things out by ourselves.
Four years have passed since our "juicervose" moment.
Owen has said almost nothing but gibberish since then.
We're beginning to give up hope.
So on Walt's ninth birthday, he's in the backyard with his buddies.
Party ends, the kids leave,
and Walt gets a little weepy, a little emotional,
and then Owen follows us into the kitchen, looking expectant.
Like, he's looking at the two of us.
He stands there, stock still, like something's bubbling up,
and he says,
"Walter doesn't want to grow up, like Mowgli or Peter Pan,"
-and off he runs.
-I was like, "What the hell just happened?
"Did Owen just say, 'Walter doesn't want to grow up,
"'like Peter Pan or Mowgli'?"
Peter Pan doesn't want to grow up
because he wants to stay a boy and be in Neverland.
Once you've grown up, you can never come back.
-I felt the same way that Walter felt
when he was nine, a teeny, tiny bit.
When you grow up, you lose all your magical, enchanted childhood times.
This wasn't just a sentence.
This was a complex sentence of a complex thought,
of something that WE didn't even see.
And all of a sudden it became clear to us.
He's using these movies to make sense of the world
-he actually is living in - our world.
-But I said to Ron, "You know,
"we've got to try and figure out if we can have him talk to us at all."
So I go up to his room.
I see Owen on the bed, flipping through a Disney book...
..and I see, sort of over to my left...
I see Iago, the puppet.
Now, Iago is the evil sidekick to the villain Jafar from Aladdin.
Now, I know Owen loves this puppet.
Jafar, Jafar! Get a grip!
I grab the puppet...
pull it up to my elbow,
and I begin to crawl across the rug as quietly as I can.
And Owen turns to the puppet like he's bumping into an old friend.
I say to him, "Owen, Owen, how does it feel to be you?"
And I said, "Not good, cos I don't have any friends."
Now, I'm under the bedspread.
And I just bite down hard.
You know? I just say to myself, "Stay in character."
And I say, "OK, OK.
"Owen, when did you and I become such good friends?"
And he said, "When I watched Aladdin, you made me laugh."
And then we talk, Owen and Iago, for a minute, minute and a half.
It's the first conversation we've ever had.
And then all of sudden, I hear him say...
I love the way your foul little mind works!
That's the next line of dialogue!
That's Jafar, the villain, to his evil sidekick, Iago.
I love the way your foul little mind works!
And then I run down and grab Cornelia.
I'm like, "He's memorised all the movies.
"I mean, he's memorised them all.
"If you throw him a line of dialogue,
"he'll throw you back the next line."
And at that point, it was like
a window opened, like a light went on...
And we began to speak to him in Disney dialogue, the whole family.
I memorised every Disney animated movie ever made.
I memorised the credits, and that's how I taught myself to read.
It felt like a great, wonderful...
..world of enchantment.
When we'd be down in the basement watching movies,
when it would kind of all come together where, you know,
that's when we drew Owen out.
And these were hand-drawn figures with exaggerated expression,
It was easier for him to interpret all of this.
I think the idea that it never changes,
and everything else is changing constantly...
Every other part of his life.
Our lives, as his parents, we're getting older.
You know, Walter's getting older.
You know, people are dying. Everything's changing,
and that's the one thing that he can hang on to that never changes.
-What's Mommy doing?
-I'm making plans
for our trip to Disney World in two days!
Are we going to want to go to the Beauty And The Beast show?
-Is it too scary?
-I think Mickey has a friend.
There's Mickey, Goofy, Donald, and blah, blah, blah.
He began to use different movie scenes to express his feelings,
like Hercules for not giving up,
The Jungle Book for wanting friends,
and Pinocchio for learning what it feels like to be a real boy.
Cornelia and I are not therapists, but we're kind of faking it here.
And the goal was... whatever works to get to Owen.
These are for you.
-Thank you, Owen.
-You're so welcome, Emily.
I love you.
"To Owen. Thank you for always being there for me in the happy
"times and in the sad times too.
"I love you more than anything."
And I also have this necklace for you, too.
And I made it myself.
Wow, what a wonderful thing.
It's Mickey Mouse on it.
'Emily is wonderful and cute
'and adorable and sweet, soft, and gentle.
'When I move into my apartment,'
Emily will move into the apartment above me,
and we'll be neighbours in love.
Another day, another day.
-Hi, how are you?
-Good to see you again this morning.
Hey, Owen, good to see you again.
-Come on back.
Owen, here's one of the things that gets hard for you.
Not easy for you to talk to people.
So...we are going to just say things
about our lives we don't think someone else knows.
OK, so I'm going to make a comment, and my comment is...
..my 27-year-old daughter rescued a kitten recently.
My girlfriend Emily, she has a pet cat.
I didn't know that. That's perfect.
Put that on there.
That's great. And we're not working on questions right now,
so I'm not going to ask you any questions about it,
but that was the perfect comment to follow that up.
-I grew up with cats.
I thought I ONLY liked cats.
I never liked dogs, and it turns out I LOVE dogs.
I love our dog, Gus.
That was a perfect comment.
'Owen, given his autism...'
..he really likes things scripted.
In fact, things that are unpredictable
make our folks really anxious,
so they really like the script.
So can we pull out your phone,
and you show me your text history with Emily?
Yeah, my girlfriend and sweetheart.
You kind of get in a routine of telling her
that you really care about her.
-But you don't really give her anything to think about.
But I WANT to.
So could we work on that?
he's just filled with the desire to relate,
and he's born to a brain that makes it hard.
That does look...
This is for putting your thoughts on,
cos I'm pushing your brain to do some stuff that's hard.
'At his age, he WANTS to have a job.
'He wants to grow up.'
And he tries to make sense of the world by fitting it into
a Disney script, right, whereas we grow up, we try to go,
"OK, we just can make sense of the world on our own."
So for Owen, I think it keeps things neat and tidy and fits
into the black and whiteness of the Disney.
But the real world is not a Disney script.
Yeah. Is it also about how you feel in terms of moving
-and all the changes going on?
So does that also kind of feel...
-Does it feel scary?
-A little bit.
I think it's easy, when a kid has had so much therapy, and is 23,
to think that the trunk is a lot stronger than it is, you know?
And the roots are stronger than they are.
-But when I see him working with you
and really on these very basic conceptual...
ability for conceptual thinking, it makes it very clear how...
how great the deficits were.
You know, 23-year-olds are off graduating from college.
You know, moving around the world independently.
-No-one expects that of Owen at this point, but the question is,
-what CAN we expect for him?
-What do you think
Owen's contributions are to his community,
-to his family?
-We asked ourselves that for so many years,
and at one point, Ron just looked at me and said,
"So who decides what a meaningful life is?"
This is my Disney friend, Jonathan Freeman.
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
-Yeah! Hi, Jonathan.
How's it going, my friend?
-How are you?
'Jonathan Freeman is a great actor
'who also does voices for animated Disney films.'
-Your father's charged me with keeping peace in Agrabah.
The boy was a criminal.
He is the voice of the evil Jafar in Disney's Aladdin and now my official
buddy, pal, and friend of the family.
So, Jonathan and I first became pals and friends
for my 19th birthday weekend when me and my mom and dad
went to New York to see Disney's Mary Poppins on Broadway.
I saw that!
And he was the Admiral, and my dad wrote him a note and sent it to him,
and he called me up on my birthday,
and Jonathan is a great friend of mine now.
-So what are we going to do?
-We're going to... We're going to do
several scenes from Aladdin.
-We're going to do a few scenes, yeah.
Sands of time, reveal to me the one who can enter the cave.
That's the clown we've been waiting for.
-And I'm Jafar.
-Wait a minute, wait a minute.
Jafar, what if YOU were the chump husband?
You marry the princess.
All right? Then...
Then you become the sultan.
Oh! Marry the princess!
The idea has merit.
I don't believe it! Gilbert Gottfried!
I am SO unbelievably surprised!
One... All right. I can't believe it!
I just don't believe it!
We're never going to get a hold of that STUPID lamp!
I hope you weren't doing the lines better than I do.
That... That's all I need - him doing the lines better
and working cheaper than I do!
-I don't think I've met you before.
-It's me, Owen.
yeah, you don't look familiar to me!
Get off the line!
Owen went to his first school.
We end up getting him into the Lab School of Washington,
which is expensive.
At this point, my career as a journalist is taking off.
Sending Owen to this school is something we can do.
Many of the kids there are learning disabled,
which is things like dyslexia, maybe ADHD, stuff that's more manageable.
They definitely accept him with the caveat that, you know,
we're going to really have to make sure
that this continues to be the right
place for him. So from day one, it was a struggle.
His speech was still very limited,
and his social skills were even more limited.
After another year or two,
it's clear the other kids are moving forward,
but he is not making enough progress, the school tells us.
Basically, he's not running fast enough, and the school says,
"Sorry, you're out. This isn't going to work."
It was really hard on him.
He was really falling back, regressing in a big way.
It was a glop.
A glop is down years, rough, down years.
When I was in the glop, I started to think my best years were behind me.
I wasn't into any animated films that time.
After I home-schooled Owen for a year,
we got him accepted to a high school for special needs kids.
But something happens.
Owen really became very withdrawn, even more, and he was very sad,
and it was really a tough time.
He is so high-strung, he barely can breathe.
When I would go to pick him up in the carpool line,
he would dart out so fast into the car.
I'd be like, "Owen, are you OK?"
"Yeah, yeah. Let's go, let's go, let's go."
Ron sat him down one day and said, "Owen, is everything OK?
"What's going on?" And he said,
"There are boys at school that are bullying me."
The bullies said they were going to burn my house down and hunt me down.
These kids basically just tormented him, and because he's so literal,
he literally thought that our house was going to be burned down,
and his parents were going to be killed.
In that moment, I fell into darkness and walked the halls of fear.
FIRE BURNS, VOICES ECHO
Well, I was just enraged about it.
Like, it was like I failed to protect him.
You know, I would've rounded up a posse and, I don't know,
kicked the shit out of them, but...
..I didn't, and I think that's why I still think about it.
I'm still bitter about it because I was, like...
It was like right there when I could've been there for Owen.
-Quasimodo! Quasimodo! Quasimodo!
You think he's ugly now? Watch this.
Hail to the king!
After the bullying, in the weeks that follow,
Owen goes down to the basement.
It's odd. He seems like he's working on something downstairs.
I go down,
and I see he's been drawing, and then I sit down with the book,
and I start flipping pages.
100 pages of pictures.
And every character is a sidekick.
There are no heroes. They're all sidekicks.
There are hundreds of them in Disney.
Some are goofy. Some are resourceful.
Some are wise. Merlin, Rafiki, Jiminy Cricket...
They're all sidekicks.
At that point, I didn't feel like a hero.
I felt like a sidekick.
The sidekicks are fun-loving, comical, wacky, playful, friendly,
and delightful, and they help the hero fulfil their destiny,
and they support the heroes.
On the last two pages, in his scrawl,
"I am the protector of the sidekicks."
And the last thing he writes, on the last page is...
I created a story about sidekicks searching for a hero in my head,
and I called it The Land Of The Lost Sidekicks.
The thing he did that I think was interesting is that sort of using
the narrative of his own life to create these stories.
But the sidekicks were there to support him and...
and help him find his way.
He was really writing little autobiographies.
The Land Of The Lost Sidekicks, by Owen Suskind.
"There is a boy who is just like other boys.
"Until one night, he sees from his window a storm on the horizon.
"He is small, just three years old, and scared."
ECHOING AND WHOOSHING
RUMBLING, SINISTER VOICES ECHO
RHYTHMIC DRUM PLAYS
-Nice to be out on the water again?
Can I stay really close to the boat?
-OK, swim to me.
-And then I'll get out.
-You've got to do breaststroke.
-No, I can do whatever.
I swam to you, I swam to you.
OK. Hey, let me shake.
-Have you conquered your fears?
-I did. Now I can get out.
ALL: # Happy birthday, dear Walter
# Happy birthday to you! #
-Owen, bring it in! One...
OK, who would like ice cream?
All right, there you go, my friend.
What do you think about Walter turning 26, O?
It's going to... It's odd but great.
Odd? How is it odd?
Because he and I are young men now.
How do you feel about being that?
Still great, but a little...
Because I'm 23 now.
So what was it like for you, Walt, when you went from living in a dorm
and being in college to living on your own in an apartment?
I thought living alone was...
was great. It was a new, you know, a new breath of freedom.
I could, you know, do what I wanted, when I wanted,
like Owen... Owie, you can now.
You're going to do what you want when you want.
-You're absolutely right, Walt.
So where are you off to?
-Well, you gave the coconut cake a try.
-I did, a try.
My mom and dad are getting older every year.
20 years from now, who knows? And...
It'll be just...
It'll be just me,
and I'll be ready.
I've been getting ready my whole life, but...
it can kind of be overwhelming to think about the...
..the idea of taking care of them and taking care of Owen, and...
..how that's going to look.
Yeah, it can keep you up at night, thinking about it...
and, for some reason, the birthday is sometimes when it rips out of me.
Most of the time, I just forget about it
and try not to think about it because it'll come at some point.
I'm his only family he's got.
And I'll have to do...
Whatever I have to do, I have to do to make sure he's OK.
Owen, go up!
Run upfield, run.
Owen, go! Go, go, go.
I'll get it, I'll get it, I'll get it, I'll get it!
Get it, get it. Owie, dribble, dribble. Dribble!
-That was a good try.
-When you see it, you just stay with the ball.
Yes, I'll stay with the ball.
Owen, dribble, bud! Go!
-I'm proud of you, buddy.
I did great.
Well, it's like I always say, Your Majesty...
..children got to be free to lead their own lives.
I just can't believe how far Owen has come.
Look at how much distance he's travelled.
Look at how much progress he made from there to there.
It doesn't seem that long ago
that we thought he would never talk again.
Owen Harry Suskind from Cambridge, Massachusetts.
-Thanks. Yay, I did it! Yay, I did it!
-I'm so proud of you.
-We're so proud of you.
-You're the greatest.
-I AM the greatest.
-You are the greatest.
Hey, buddy, we got to...
-We got to pack up.
-Oh, can we watch three scenes of Dumbo to celebrate?
To celebrate what?
The packing day.
What... Hold on.
What scenes are you thinking of?
-I'm lost here.
-I think the packing scenes, um...
-Dumbo. Let 'er rip.
And then packing.
'Come on, Dumbo.'
When you were little, you'd watch this movie.
-When you were facing some pretty tough...
How did it make you feel when you got to the end?
-It can go right on top.
-One more big box.
-Where's your thing?
It's right... Oh, no!
-When did you last see it?
-I don't remember!
All right, Mickey Mouse charm. Now, it's got to be on a path.
-The Mickey Mouse charm that Emily
-gave him fell off.
-Where is it? Oh, where is it?
I hope no-one stepped on it. Look around, look around,
look around, look around. Should I sniff it?
Owen, can you smell it?
No, I can't.
-It's somewhere, right?
And if it's not somewhere, you're going to get one, and in a few days,
it'll be exactly the same.
-Are you sure?
-Yeah, I mean, Emily...
Emily made it for me.
She didn't make the Mickey emblem.
-She bought it.
Did she make the Mickey emblem? Did she go to a metal shop and make it?
No, of course not!
Any shiny item could be Mickey.
Owen, could you come here, please?
I have to give you something.
You found it!
-Where was it?
-On the ground.
There's no way Mickey's coming off of there.
Yay. All set.
There it is. Exciting!
-Here we are, Owen.
-Yes, here we are!
-What do we got here? What do we got here?
Me, Emily, and John and Julie.
Do you know what? I think YOU should open the door.
-There we go.
-Here it is.
-Here it is.
-Your own apartment.
-Your own condo.
-My own condo, yay!
-What do you think, huh?
Owen, this closet is bigger than Mom and my first apartment in New York.
-What could be in here?
Videos, that's amazing!
-Who would've imagined?
-Who would imagine?
Excuse me, coming through.
-Are you good?
-It's a big night for you.
It will be.
-Where are you right now?
I'm right... I'm home, my new home.
-Goodbye, I love you.
-Love you too.
-I'll see you and Dad tomorrow.
-This is so exciting.
Have a great night.
-Love you, buddy.
-Love you, too, Dad.
OK, off we go.
'You must never rush out on the meadow.
'There might be danger.
'Out there, we are unprotected,
'so we have to be very careful.
'Mother, where are you?
I never lived by myself before.
Emily will move in next week.
One over this flame here.
'There are people here to help me.
'I get help cooking.
'They help me with medication and paying bills.
'We all go on fun outings.
'They can help me look for a job,
'which is something I really want to do.'
great and fabulous.
Is this the right mailbox?
Excuse me. Is this the right mailbox?
-Which one's mine?
-OK, can I see which one you have?
I'm not sure if that's a mailbox key.
-Let's go check back.
It had the number on it, so...
-It says here, two.
-Yeah, let's go check back.
-Yes, you've got mail!
-Yes, I got mail! Let's see.
Let's see. I got mail.
-Yeah, all right.
-Let's bring it back.
-How are you doing?
-I'm doing good. How are YOU doing?
I'm doing great.
I'm glad you made it.
Which one should we do?
How about make the cookies and THEN watch a movie?
-That sounds like a great idea.
I hope we baked them right.
Did we bake them right?
-I don't want to...
Oh, thanks, Emily.
-At least we gave it a try.
-We did good.
-Uh-oh. Are you OK?
-Are you OK?
-Yeah, I'm OK. I'm OK.
-Are you OK?
Yeah, I'm OK.
You need me to kiss it better?
I think it's good.
-Not going well here.
Not going well because of the rocks.
I was just thinking. You and Emily are the same age
-Mom and Dad were when they started dating.
You kind of see yourselves like Mom and Dad?
-Yes, we do.
Because we take it slowly.
-Yeah. We have the same interests.
Yeah? So what are...?
-You got Disney.
Pretty serious thing, a girlfriend of three years, you know.
Yeah, it IS pretty serious.
You've had a class on this at school, right?
Have you thought about those things?
Sometimes I have.
-How does it make you feel?
-It makes me feel a little nervous
-and a little excited.
-OK, how does it make you feel a little nervous?
-Let's start with that.
-I haven't tried it before.
Have you seen it?
-Where'd you see it?
Yeah? For instance, you see how some people kiss.
They might use their what?
They don't just use their lips. They use their...
-Ice cream time, bud?
-Yes, let's go!
'For Owen, unknown things make him uncomfortable,
'whether it's an unknown place or someone he doesn't know, or sex.'
It's been a little tricky to navigate
because Owen's basis for pretty much everything is Disney.
And Disney, beyond the, like, kind of final kiss in every movie...
The, you know,
straight kiss, no tongue...
It doesn't really delve into relationships and sex
really that much.
I've tried a number of tactics that worked to varied degrees.
Bringing up the idea of a French kiss, I found that just didn't work.
You know, he's a red-blooded American man.
He's got his same biological needs as everyone else, but in terms of,
like, full-on sex, I have...
I mean, I have no idea how to really get to that point, short of...
I don't know.
Showing him Disney porn, maybe?
I really don't know.
Owen, you know your favourite Little Mermaid songs?
-Yeah, Kiss The Girl.
-What do I mean by that?
Just kiss her,
using my tongue.
-I will do it.
-How you doing?
-I'm doing good. I'm Owen. Nice to meet you.
My name is Jeffrey Ortiz.
-You can have a seat right here.
All right, so why are you interested in working for us here?
Because I love going to the movie theatres and cinemas all the time.
-And do you come here pretty often?
-Yes, I do.
-Yeah? Very good.
How many hours were you looking to work?
So this is the concession area.
-Do you do any cash handling?
-I'll walk you out if you'd like.
Thanks for having me, Jeff.
-Oh, you're very welcome.
-When can I hear a response?
As soon as we get your references back.
-It should be a pretty quick turnaround after that.
CAR HORN BEEPS
I just got a call.
..Emily broke up with Owen.
'There was a meeting with all the caseworkers today, so basically,'
the caseworkers told Owen that it was over, with Emily in the room.
So it's bad.
I'll give him a... He just...
'He needs a brother call right now.'
Emily gave these reasons, like,
five points about Owen being too close and needing space
and everything else, so...
HE MUTTERS ANGRILY
Good luck, Emily!
Come on, guys. Come on, come on. We've got to get in the van, OK?
At least I waved to her.
Why is life so full of unfair pain and tragedy?
'Owen, it's just the way life is.
'That's the way life has always been and will always be.
'We have incredibly joyous times...'
-'And relaxing times,
-'but we also have sad times and painful times.'
But it's... But it's not fair.
'I know, honey. So much things that happen in life aren't fair.
-'So many things.'
-What do we have to do?
Just face the truth and be sad forever?
'No, not forever at all. Just... You have to face the truth
'and grit your teeth and...
'and know that things are going to get better.'
MUSIC FROM THE LITTLE MERMAID PLAYS
-Yeah. Yeah, hi, Mom.
-How are you, buddy?
-I'm so glad to see you.
-I'm so glad to see you, too.
And I fear Emily will be this way forever.
She won't, honey. She won't.
Have you started a journal about your feelings,
that you can write things out and you can write...?
But I don't want to be alone and single.
Well, that's really not a choice right now, huh?
-It's not a choice.
-But it doesn't mean you're going to always be.
But I don't want her to forget me.
I don't want her to forget me.
-Do you know who I'm a little bit concerned about?
Most people at your age, they don't meet
the love of their life forever.
-At your age.
What's the saying? "Boy loves girl, boy loses girl, boy love...
"gets girl back in the end."
-Boy finds another girl.
-But I... I...
This is driving me crazy.
Why did this have to happen to make my life sad forever?
I created Fuzzbutch, who is a villain
in the Land Of The Lost Sidekicks.
Fuzzbutch's evil powers are to blow fog into people's head
to make the world look like a weird place to them
and make them look sad.
There is evil in the forest.
RUMBLING, ECHOING VOICES
SINISTER SHOUTING AND ECHOING
-Owen, Owen, Owen.
-'Owen, has Daddy talked to you about going to France?'
-'You don't want to go?'
-I love Paris, France.
'So there's a conference on autism, where they want you to speak.
'It's actually the very first time, Owie,
'that people have gotten together to learn about how autistic people use
'their passions to help them understand the world,
'just like you use Disney. Yeah, does that sound good?'
-It sounds great.
-'Good, yeah. It'd be fun.'
You're going to get to give a speech in English to a delegation,
an international delegation.
Most of them are French, but they're from all over the world.
-OK? They are going to translate
-your speech into French.
So I'll speak in English, but they'll translate into French.
You should just speak in Lumiere's accent the whole time.
-Should I really speak in...?
-What do you think?
-What should I write? You're not telling me?
-No, I can't tell you.
It's got to come from...
The way people...see autistic...
Don't look at me.
This is challenging.
-Just write to here.
-Another ten sentences?
-All right? Come on.
-A little kid whines.
A little kid whines.
-You're not a little kid any more.
-I'm a young adult.
Think. Think hard!
You could break into song at any moment.
# They can sing, they can dance
# After all, this is France... #
BOTH: # Dinner here is never second best... #
ALL: # Come on and fold your napkin
# Take...a glance and then you'll be our guest
# Be our guest, be our guest, be our guest
# Beef ragout, cheese souffle, pie and pudding, en flambe... #
-Is this it?
-It looks like a town hall, yeah.
-Owen, this is Marie.
-She's running the conference.
Hi, Marie. Bonjour.
I am very pleased to meet you, Owen.
-Are you fine?
-Owen, come. Come chat, say hi.
-Yes, I am. I don't like the smoking.
-(He doesn't like smoking.)
-A lot of people smoke in France.
Do you want to do it yourself?
-Didn't Walter teach you how to do this?
-No. Can you help me?
-OK, I'm not always going to be here to do your tie, you know.
AS IAGO: I can't believe it! I just don't believe it!
Owen, are you ready?
OK, everybody, let's move it.
Bonjour, mesdames et messieurs.
Je suis honoreche...
d'eytrey ici avec vous.
My name is Owen Suskind, and I love animated films.
My friend Connor loves superheroes.
My friend Brian is an expert on the history of all actors and comedians
who are Jewish. There's a lot of them!
The way people see those with autism is that
they don't want to be around other people.
The truth about autistic people is
that we want what everyone else wants,
but we are sometimes misguided
and don't know how to connect with others.
I was bullied in high school.
The future seemed so scary and uncertain,
I didn't want to grow up.
I just watched the world go by from my bell tower,
like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The Hunchback doesn't end the way some movies do.
Quasimodo doesn't get the girl,
but he gets happily welcomed into society after a long, hard journey.
Then he's no longer an outcast.
That's kind of what happened to me.
Now, when I look in the mirror, I see a proud autistic man...
..strong and brave and ready to meet a future
that is bright and full of wonder.
Walter! Walt's here!
-Owie! Good to see you, buddy.
-Good to see you.
-This is your... I haven't seen your place yet.
-Look at that library.
-Yeah, I still have a few more to collect.
-You have some more to collect?
-A few more.
-What are the plans?
-Oh, how about you and I hang out together?
I'll show you the text me and Dad wrote to Emily this past weekend.
-I'll tell you.
-All right, read it to me.
"Dear Emily, I took off the necklace you gave me and put it away.
"I wanted you to be clear about my feelings,
"that I have accepted our relationship is over.
"Lots of couples break up and remain friends.
"I want us to be one of them.
"We know each other too well to throw our friendship away,
"so let's just be friends and make lots of new friends.
"Either way, I'm sure I'll see you around. Your friend, Owen."
What do you think?
It's good, it's good.
Good morning, Emily.
It's my bike.
It is. How'd you sleep last night?
I slept great.
Yeah. I'll see... See you later.
"After battling the evil Lord Fuzzbutch,
"the boy finds himself at the bottom of a deep, dark pit.
"He sees something glinting in the darkness around him."
There you go. Enjoy the show.
-Enjoy the show.
Enjoy the show!
I have been scared my whole life of growing up
because you might lose some of the old things you treasured,
like all my fun films,
but I never did.
We definitely worry about getting old.
My hope and dream, when Ron and I aren't here,
is that he is independent enough to make it
and be able to grow older on his own.
He's going to have to fail.
He's going to have to fall and fail.
You know, we're not afraid of that as we used to be.
I think he'll be OK.
I'm still searching for it.
My childhood days were over.
That doesn't matter.
AS THE LION KING CHARACTERS: We're way beyond the boundary
of the Pride Lands. Hey, look, Banana Beak is scared.
It's Mr Banana Beak to you, Fuzzy,
and right now we are all in very real danger.
Nominated for an Academy Award, this film tells the uplifting story of Owen Suskind, an autistic young man and his family. After unremarkable early years, at the age of three Owen withdrew and suddenly stopped speaking. Diagnosed with autism, Owen slowly emerged from his isolation by immersing himself in Disney animated films, using them as an emotional road map to reconnect with the wider world.
Owen and his family describe the challenges he faced growing up and the understanding he drew from these stories. Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams tracks how by repeatedly watching these Disney classics, Owen learned to view the world as deep and complex, as well as inspirational and instructive.
Life, Animated is a remarkable insight into Owen's unique way of seeing the world, and an emotional coming-of-age story as he leaves home and takes his first steps towards independence.