The Reason I Jump – Review

Worth seeing: as a beautifully crafted insight into the minds of autistic people with little more no verbal communication
Director:Jerry Rothwell
Featuring:David Mitchell, Jim Fujiwara, Jordan O'Donegan
Length:82 minutes
Released:18th June 2021


What is autism? How does it affect those with the condition? Many of us think we know – we’ve seen Rain Man, after all.

But Jerry Rothwell’s documentary sets out to show “neuro-typical” viewers how it feels to be autistic and why those with the condition act the way they do.

Guided by a book – of the same name – written by a Japanese teenager, Naoki Higashida, Rothwell introduces us to a handful of young autistic adults, who are unable to communicate verbally.

But as he seeks to demonstrate, that doesn’t mean they can’t have the same thoughts and feelings as everyone else – they just find it harder to put the pieces together and to express themselves.


Coming just a couple of weeks after Sir Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of a man with Alzheimer’s Disease in The Father, The Reason I Jump offers “neuro-typicals” another insight into the minds of people who interpret the world around them in a very different way.

As the film shows viewers how difficult some autistic people can find it to communicate verbally, it seems almost astonishing that Naoki Higashida was able to write about his experiences so articulately and, with the author not wanting to appear on screen himself, Rothwell has managed to find other autistic people who demonstrate much of what he describes.

In the US, Emma and Ben have been friends since a young age, communicating with each other – and those around them – by spelling out words on an alphabet board.

In England, Joss becomes drawn to the hum of the green roadside electricity boxes and his childhood attraction to light and water gives way to struggles with aggression as he gets older.

Amrit, in India, expresses herself through paintings that she exhibits at a local gallery.

And in Sierra Leone, where many autistic children are regarded as the devil offspring of witches, Jestina’s parents open a school, where they can feel safe.

As well as these young people and their families, one of the main contributors to the film is the novelist David Mitchell, who also translated Higashida’s book, in trying to understand the behaviour and experiences of his own son. “Neuro-typicals are rubbish at understanding anything that is not neuro-typical,” he bemoans.

The final – central – element of the film is Higashida’s words themselves, far more profound than you’d expect from even a neuro-typical teenager, narrated as we see a young autistic boy bringing more of the experiences to life – as he notices small details before realising that they’re part of bigger objects – as he tries to separate what he’s just experienced from distant memories in his mind. “There’s a gap between what I’m thinking and why I’m saying,” he explains, both chronologically and contextually.

The images – from the closest details to the widest vistas – are stunning, lifted further by the score, as Higashida’s enlightening and revelatory words film our minds, so that we can understand theirs.

But going on Jerry Rothwell’s sensory journey to gain some understanding of the world of an autistic person is only part of this experience – the most emotional moments often come from the reactions of the parents, as they try to protect their children and see the world through their eyes. “Being with Joss is to live more in the moment,” observes Joss’s father, Jeremy, a producer of the film, as he runs through the colourful tunnels of a children’s soft-play.

One of the messages of the film is that people with autism can be – and need to be – part of the conversation about people with autism – although it’s clear from this film – and the book from which it draws its inspiration – that there’s a whole spectrum of abilities and there’ll be many autistic people who don’t share Higashida’s experiences and are less able to engage with the world around them, verbally or otherwise.

It’s an intricately crafted documentary, beautifully realised and packs an emotional punch on many levels, although it’s perhaps more successful at opening a window into the autistic world for neuro-typicals than it is as an academic resource for those directly affected by the condition.