one was surprised when Nic Balthazar's Ben X, along
with Claude Miller's A Secret, won the coveted Grand
Prix of Americas for best film at the 2007 version of the
World Film Festival.
X is a weighty film that deals with the malfunctions of the
mind in the context of harassment, bullying and 21st century
director, Nic Balthazar, former thespian, was asked to write
a book for youngsters who weren't readers. He became interested
in an adolescent who committed suicide jumping off the Chateau
de Contes in Ghent (Belgium). After speaking at length with
the boy’s mother, he wrote a book about it, then a play,
and finally directed the award winning film.
X is described as mildly autistic. For many of us, our understanding
of autism was informed by the film The Rain Man (1988)
with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. We think of autistic persons
being incapable of responding to human feeling and emotion.
Is Ben X even mildly autistic?
film suggests the diagnosis is more a convenience than working
fact. Ben X can’t express his thoughts and feelings.
He finds sanctuary in the video game entitled Archlord. But
the social equilibrium provided by the game is no match against
the relentless harassment he is subjected to at school. Since
Ben can’t express himself, the degree of harassment
is never suspected. And where you’d expect the psychiatrist
to know Ben’s mind, there is indictable ignorance. One
is tempted to propose a law that predicts an inverse relationship
between a person’s silence and active fantasy life.
No one, not even Ben’s caring and loving Mother, is
adequate to his extended silences and anguish, which he sublimates
in cyberspace. And no one suspects him of developing real
feelings for a real girl that he has arranged to meet in real
life – hardly a trait of autism.
whose feet are firmly planted in the realities of the 21st
century, handles with great aplomb and sensitivity Ben’s
fragile state of mind and the collective mind of the bully.
He introduces us to happy
slapping and cyber violence. The film provides
fresh and disturbing insights into Ben’s suppressed
inner feelings, anger, frustration and despair. And whether
or not Ben is autistic is to miss the point: the film insists
that we need to better understand and take account of the
diversity that exists in every human being.
all films that linger productively in the mind, the ending
invites a variety of interpretations on Ben’s fate,
for when all is said and done, there is a little bit of Ben
and the bully in each and every one of us, just as there is
no escaping the cause and effect of the choices we make in
movie features a compelling, geist-right sound track that
includes excerpts from the music of dEUS and the beautifully
haunting voice of Tom Barman.