"Mozart and the Whale"
is a movie projected to come out in a
few months, loosely based on the life of AHA/AS/PDD's advisory board
member Jerry Newport and his wife Mary. Jerry has authored two
books, Your Life is Not a Label: A Guide to Living Fully with
Autism and Asperger's Syndrome and along with Mary, Autism - Asperger's
and Sexuality: Puberty and
Beyond. The article below is from the fall edition of the
AHA/AS/PDD newsletter: On
One Good Asperger Movie
Can Make a Difference
by Jerry Newport
There have been many movies made about
autism but as far as I am concerned, only "Rain Man" did us much good. It
put autism on the map even if many who saw it mistakenly believe that
Raymond Babbitt was a typical autistic man. Autism is part of our language
today even if often misunderstood. You can't get anywhere if people don't
even know you exist.
That is a good thing. People needed to
know in 1988, that autism exists. I sure did. Without "Rain Man" to pique
my curiosity, I could still be in obscurity, totally lost, alone or even
dead. That movie inspired me to explore my own past and look for other
people like me and a way for all of us to help each other. Today, just as
many may need to know about Asperger Syndrome. It is hard to say just many
people have Asperger's or will have it but I do know that regular Kanner
autism is growing at an incredible rate. In the United States, it is found
as often as one in 150 children. If that rate extends worldwide, then with
over 400,000 new births a day, a new future autistic child is born every
Make of the numbers what you wish but I
believe that Asperger Syndrome also enters the population in larger
numbers than ever. This is a big reason why Mary and I allowed our lives
to be used as background information for a movie recently filmed. That
movie is called "Mozart and The Whale."
The "Mozart" refers to the music talent
of the female character, like my wife. If you know me, you know I am the
original whale. I always liked whales because they are so big that if you
are one, you don't worry about being out of step. The rest of the ocean
tries to swim along with you!
"Mozart" is not our life story. Some of
the movie is very close to our reality. Some is different but as Tony
Attwood said, "authentic.": where "Mozart" differs from our story is still
in a way that one could imagine it happening with an Asperger's couple and
their adult friends who have Aspergers or Autism. The movie is not a
documentary either. It is a movie. It is entertaining, provocative,
emotional, heartbreaking and inspiring. Asperger Syndrome can be all of
The male lead, Josh Hartnett ("Pearl
Harbor") doesn't look at all like me. I guess he is more like a nice,
sleek, Blue Whale where I am an Orca. But Josh is a great actor and has
done a fine job of capturing the spirit of myself at a younger age. When I
was twenty six, I was totally obsessed with fitting in. I was totally
frustrated by this thing I couldn't name (Aspergers) that prevented me
from fitting in. The female lead, Radha Mitchell, ("Man on Fire") is from
Australia. She looks a lot more like Mary did when I met her and is closer
to her age back then. Radha's character, like Mary, is wiser. She accepts
herself more as she is.
It is not looks that count. From what I
have seen, Josh, Radha and the rest of the cast have performed a miracle
in bringing to the screen what goes on inside anyone who has Asperger
Syndrome or whose autism is high functioning enough for them to be part of
an adult group.
After one scene, when I visited the
location, I was tempted to say to the director, Petter Naess, "I think we
need to adjust the cast's medication." I knew they were actors but they
made me feel at home.
This movie has an interesting local
connection to Long Island. The producer, Robert Lawrence, is a native of
Port Washington. Robert was VP of New Projects at Universal Studios when
his friend, Roger Birnbaum (recently: "Seabiscuit") bought the rights for
Robert steered that project to some
Oscars and promised Stephen Spielberg, who wanted to direct it, that he
would let him know if he ever found another autism project. It didn't take
long for Robert to introduce Mary and me to Mr. Spielberg in 1996. But
life is busy for such people. When he realized he would never be able to
direct our movie, Mr. Spielberg allowed another studio, Millennium
Studios, to take it over.
"Mozart's" director deserves a lot of
credit. Petter Naess has a lot of sensitivity. When Mary and I saw a tape
of "Elling" (2001), it gave us new hope for the project. "Elling" was
nominated for an Oscar for "Best Foreign Film." It is a great story about
two men who move out of an institution into the apartment and have a
remarkable series of misadventures, battling the system and sometimes,
each other. "Mozart's" screenwriter, Ron Bass, co-wrote "Rain Man."
That is the real story about "that movie"
you have probably heard about. I don't know when it will be in a theater.
I would love to know. I feel good about having contributed to it and would
feel that way even if I hadn't been paid six figures for my rights. For
me, it is a special kind of closure to how I first entered the world of
autism. "Rain Man" led to seek out the truth about my own past. It led me
to ASA, a support group and eventually, a life with Mary. I hope that some
lucky person will see "Mozart and The Whale" and experience such a change
in his fortunes.