The 2009 film, “Adam,” turns its twenty-nine-year-old hero, a man with Asperger Syndrome, into a Manic Pixie Dream Girl:
“The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is there to give new meaning to the male hero’s life. She’s stunningly attractive, high on life, full of wacky quirks and idiosyncrasies (generally including childlike playfulness and a tendency towards petty crime), often with a touch of wild hair dye. She’s inexplicably obsessed with our stuffed-shirt hero, on whom she will focus her kuh-razy (sic) antics until he learns to live freely and love madly.”
“Adam,” of course, diverges from the formula in that he’s a pixie dream boy, while his girlfriend, Beth, is the love object who needs to loosen up, a “neurotypical,” or “NT.” Fortunately, this film also subverts its genre in other, more meaningful ways.
In the beginning, Adam – his personality “quirks,” his mannerisms, his interests, his outlook – are viewed from the perspective of Beth, who is a proxy for the audience. She treats him with a combination of awe and amusement, comparing him to the prince from Le Petit Prince. Only when she is off-screen does his point of view dominate.
But as the relationship progresses, Adam is given sympathy and treated fairly, even when he engages in behaviors that annoy or upset Beth.
What’s more, they both grow, coming to understand the importance of strong, regular communication. Beth initiates the pattern, and Adam reciprocates, asking her if his interpretation of what he is saying is accurate.
For instance, in one scene, the two of them are in bed together, and Beth says carefully to Adam that she has been through a lot, and wants to take things slow in her relationship with him. Adam asks if this means no sex. Beth confirms this, and Adam goes through a list of other sex acts, clarifying if these are all okay. Beth agrees, and Adam affirms again, no sex. The two then share in a loving embrace, with Adam respecting and not pushing Beth’s limits.
And then the movie really departs from convention: in the end, the character who experiences transformative growth is not the “typical,” or mainstream lover, but the dream boy himself. Adam discovers a deception of Beth’s, which precipitates a meltdown. The two separate, and Adam moves to California for a new job. He’s learned things form his relationship with her, such as the ability to be more courteous and helpful without prompting, and a better understanding of social interaction.
I was glad that they didn’t end up together, because it sends a positive message that an autistic person doesn’t have to settle down with the first person who accepts and understands their diagnosis. They can learn from a relationship, grow from it, and still move on and let go, with both having gained something from the relationship without it having to be “the one.”
I recommend “Adam” highly as a portrait of autistic romance, because, even though it is far from perfect, it still shines through as a portrayal filled with love and respect for the subject and the relationship.
Leah Jane Grantham is a full-time student and part-time advocate at the University of Victoria, or a full-time advocate and a part-time student, depending on how you look at it. She’s passionate about issues related to autism, self-expression, feminism, disability rights, art, philosophy, and history. When she’s not studying or advocating, Leah enjoys painting, writing poetry, reading, and blogging. Her personal blog can be found at www.quixoticautistic.wordpress.com