Review: X and Y

At times during X+Y I felt quite sympathetic to the film’s central character, strangely though it was because of his inability to connect with others that I identified with him.

At times during X+Y I felt quite sympathetic to the film’s central character, Nathan Ellis (Hugo’s Asa Butterfield), strangely though it was because of his inability to connect with others that I identified with him. Up until that point, I felt a distinct disconnect. Make sense? Perhaps some kind of mathematical formula could explain it more clearly, or at least less cryptically. You see, Nathan has autism and from a very young age has displayed a prodigious ability for mathematics. How much his inability to engage with people — he refuses to let his mother, Julie (a wonderful Sally Hawkins), touch him — is caused by the autism or by the trauma of witnessing his father die at a young age is unsure. It’s this emotional remoteness that makes it diffi cult to connect with Nathan as audience also, which ultimately you share as a point of commonality. When Nathan is picked to try out for the IMO (International Mathematical Olympiad), his journey to Taipei for the preliminary trials, his tentative friendship with a female Chinese competitor (Jo Yang), and his return trip to England for the IMO comprise the narrative. Interspersed are scenes in which Julie begins a similarly tentative friendship with Nathan’s former teacher, Martin (Rafe Spall), who himself struggles with a condition that hindered his own IMO success. Spall clearly relishes the cynical, cussing character who eventually comes to terms with his multiple sclerosis and champions Nathan through similar challenges. Former documentarian Morgan Matthews has drawn on his previous doco about the IMO, Beautiful Young Minds, to craft a sensitive portrayal about being exceptional, and making the choices that ultimately render that exceptionality as either productive, or otherwise. The director’s skill with actors shines through and results in a drama that is enjoyably heartfelt, and connecting in a disconnecting kind of way.

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