"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 The Spectrum.

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 32 seconds.

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 those things.

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 "Rain Man."

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.


 Go Top

"We each have our own way of living in the world, together we are like a symphony.
Some are the melody, some are the rhythm, some are the harmony
It all blends together, we are like a symphony, and each part is crucial.
We all contribute to the song of life."
...Sondra Williams

We might not always agree; but TOGETHER we will make a difference.


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Updated 04/02/2014