Ben is a teenager that oozes strength, character and control. He is the master of his own destiny. But only for a very specific time each morning. Only when he is immersed in his online character, exploring the fantasy world of a best selling game.
Outside of the game Ben is only a shell of his online avatar. He only copes through routine and the relative safety of his home. Once he leaves for school every morning Ben enters a dangerous and alien world. A world that assault his senses, populate by people who don’t understand him, and for the most part, make fun of him.
Ben lives under the constant shadow of Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. Ben doesn’t understand why he should smile at people when there is nothing to smile about. He’s constantly analysing sayings that don’t make sense, like ‘Good Morning’. Why do we always say good morning? What if it’s a bad morning, we don’t say “bad morning’ muses Ben in his head.
Life outside of his cyber world, out side of home is a living hell for Ben. He tries to learn how to ‘be normal’ but people can see that he’s not. They take advantage of him; play jokes on him. Ben suffers through it all silently, but with a growing frustration and internalised boiling anger.
We know something bad is going to happen, there is a feeling of immanent doom pervasive throughout the movie. The story is interspersed with what looks like a television interview with his mum, dad and principal. They are all talking about how they didn’t see it coming until it had already happened.
It makes for a fraught and emotional journey, one where you are never allowed to sit comfortably and just watch. You have to become emotionally involved with Ben’s life.
Greg Timmermans absolutely nails the role of Ben, his mannerisms, outlook on life, social interactions all shout Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s as if the actor himself has experience living with this ‘disorder,’ such is his mesmerising performance.
If there were a movie in this seasons NZIFF to eclipse the emotional powerhouse of Boy A, it would have to be Ben X.
Food for thought (spoilers):
The Ecumenical Jury at the World Film Festival in Montreal had this to say about Ben X; “Using religious imagery of the Passion of Christ, Ben X represents the possibility of a different response to violence. Afflicted more by others’ bullying and misunderstanding than by his autism, the main character responds to this violence with creative intelligence and effective use of media. The film’s stylistic innovation presents different versions of Ben’s reality in a way that thwarts spectators’ expectations and that implicates the viewer within habitual social responses to violence.”
Reviewed by: Jonathan Read.
Rating: M – Some content may disturb.
Duration: 90 mins.
Genre: Drama, Foreign.
Director: Nic Balthazar.
Actors: Greg Timmermans, Laura Verlinden.