For those of you who have not seen the movie The Accountant stop reading now as this article is full of spoilers
I finally the other day managed to find enough time in my crazy December calendar to go and see The Accountant staring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons . The story was written by Bill Dubuque and directed by Gavin O’Connor . The movie does a great job of showing how socially isolating having Aspergers is and one line in one scene captures it so well. When asked what is wrong with you Ben Affleck’s character repipes with:
“I’m high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, I have difficulty emotionally connecting and socialising with people even though I want to”
The plot of the movie appears to be relatively simple Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is a high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (Aspergers) with more ability to do puzzles and work with numbers than connect with people. Behind the cover of being a forensic accountant working for ZZZ Accounting in Plainfield Illinois, he works as a freelance accountant for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organisations.
The Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division, run by Ray King (J.K Simmons), is starting to close in on finding him thanks to the work of Data Analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) so Christian is advised by his virtual assistant to take on a legitimate client. He takes a contract with Living Robotics a state-of-the-art robotics company where accounting clerk Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) has discovered an accounting discrepancy involving millions of dollars. But as Christian un-cooks the books and gets closer to the truth the person cooking the books hires a small but lethal private army to kill anyone who knows about the discrepancy in the accounting. However the hired assassins discover the strange, nerdy accountant is a fully trained lethal killer with an unstoppable drive to finish the puzzle and find out why the books are cooked and to protect the one person in a very long time he’s made an emotional connection with the accounting clerk Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) who found the original discrepancy in the companies accounting records.
Through flash backs you see Christian being diagnosed as severely Autistic with minimal communication skills at Harbour Neuroscience Institute in New Hampshire. However his father a life time Army Intelligence Officer decides his son needs to learn to live in the real world and refuses to leave Christian at the Institute. Christian and his brother Brax are raised by their father after their mother walks out because she can’t handle the stress of Christians rages. The boys father raises them identically with what appears to be an incredibly harsh routine of martial arts training, exposer to loud noise, bright lights and intelligence tasks with one rule that family comes first. You discover at some point Christian ended up in prison where his cell mate Francis Silverberg (Jeffrey Tambor) a crooked accountant teaches him how to be The Accountant for the worlds criminal organisations. However more importantly in Christians mind Francis teaches him the one thing his father never did, which is how to behave in day to day life, read voice cues, facial expressions and what the corresponding socially acceptable response to most situations should be.
I’ll leave the rest of the plot twist for you to discover and move onto discussing things I love about this movie. The focus of the movie is of course Christian Wolf and Ben Affleck does an amazing job of correctly portraying the communication style, OCD habits and other traits of someone with Autism. Ben does the no eye contact, minimal verbal response, flat emotional effect, missing social cues and slight irritation at what he considers peoples irrational responses to his questions really well. He also nails the small things like in one scene where he’s cooked his food in 3 separate pans he puts the food on his plate and notices the egg is just touching the pancake so he very gently moves it so there is a gap between each peace of food on his plate (I rolled around laughing at that scene because food touching is my pet hate).
However when you take a step back and look at some of the other characters you realise that the writer very subtly added other characters on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. The accounting clerk Dana Cummings and data analyst Marybeth Medina are both defiantly on the Spectrum only with better communications skills. Then there is Christian father who’s lack of emotional reaction and speech patterns are indicators he’s also on the Spectrum. When you see parents and children at the Harbour Neuroscience Institute where Christian was diagnosed and still financially supports there is always at least one parent who could be classify as being on the Spectrum, one father who says very little throughout his son’s diagnostic interview with the doctor suddenly spots a state of the art Computer and gets all excited and starts rattling of statistics and design information to which the doctor just smiles and says “oh yes you’re a computer engineer aren’t you”.
I have read both good and bad reviews of this movie. The bad reviews tend to focus on things like Christians lethal killing skills that in a flash back you see he was in the Army, with people saying someone as Autistic as Christian is with communication difficulties would never have made it into the Army. This is totally incorrect, I worked for Aust Dept of Defence and over the span of my career I met many guys who were exactly like Christian Wolfs character and just as lethal. That this movie gives an unrealistic expectations of what people with ASD can do. A view point that pisses me off because it just perpetuates the myth that people with ASD can’t learn to live in society and prosper if given the right tools. If any thing is incorrect it would be how Christen Wolf coped so well in Leavenworth prison because communication styles in prisons rely a lot on none verbal cues like body language, facial expression and small signals like a finger click all of which Christian would have missed. The other thing reviewers don’t get is if Christian was only at the Harbour Neuroscience Institute once while being diagnosed why does he financially support them. To me the answer was so obvious on his diagnosis day he meets Justine the daughter of the Institutes director who is severely Autistic but they become friends when she finds his missing puzzle peace and thus helps him finish the puzzle he was working on. Since making friends is so very difficult when you have Autism you treasure the ones you have and try hard not to lose them. At the end of the movie you see Justine talking via her state of the art computer that Christian bought her to a young Autistic boy and you realise that it’s the voice of Christians virtual assistant.
As much as this movie appears to have a simplistic plot line there are twists revealed throughout that you don’t see coming. Be warned this is not a PG-13 movie there is a lot of violence, swearing and killing. However it is packed with both intentional humour that everyone will get and humour designed specifically for those of us who are either ASD or the people in our lives who will go “OMG you do that all the time” as they dissolve into laughter. If you have epilepsy or like me become distressed by strobe lighting mixed with incredibly loud noise you will find the scenes where Christian is “desensitising” himself to over stimulating sound/noise really hard to watch (I ended up closing my eyes).
Like I said personally I loved this movie and it will end up in my collection of movies that get watched to death. I might even make it compulsory viewing for anyone wanting to date me so they know what it can be like living with me.