So, I know the movie came out last year, but I only got around to watching it recently. In sum: it’s not perfect, but overall I really, really liked it, and I would like to see more movies featuring autistic characters that are like The Accountant.
However, I’ve been kind of disheartened by the mixed critical reviews and some criticism by other autistic people—a lot of which came from people who didn’t actually watch the movie. So, I wanted to give my thoughts (as an autistic who watched the movie).
First, Not Autism Stuff: I love the nonlinear narrative style; I think it was done really well and in a way that was engaging and compelling. It’s one of those movies in which at first some scenes might not make sense or seem relevant, but as the movie goes on, you see how all the puzzle pieces fit together, and I love that.
Now, onto the autism rep (general first, then specific).
A lot of the criticism has revolved around the surface elements of the story—namely, the decision to have the autistic character (Ben Affleck’s character, Christian Wolff) be a gunslinging dude who shoots people. Some people dislike this because of the idea that it’s equating autism with violence (which is, obviously, very bad), and/or that it’s showing an autistic person as a “sociopath.”
These criticisms are objectively wrong (which is precisely why it can be dangerous to make judgments about a premise without actually reading/watching first).
I mean, if you believe that autistic characters should never be seen engaging in any kind of violence…then, yeah, you’re not going to like the movie.* However, the movie itself does not equate violence to autism or autism to sociopathy. Let me explain:
- If Christian Wolff had been the only violent character in the movie, then yeah, I can see that conclusion. But he’s not. There are tons of (presumably neurotypical) gun-wielding henchmen who are just as violent. There’s a (definitely neurotypical) hitman/private security contractor who is also violent. In fact, while Christian Wolff is described, in the movie itself, as something of an antihero, the movie also points out that he kills people when they “violate” his “moral code.” So really he’s more like a vigilante, and in my opinion, an autistic vigilante is unique and cool.
- The strongest argument against the movie equating autism with violence is that Christian Wolff is not *naturally* violent just because he’s autistic—there are plenty of flashbacks that show that he was trained in self-defense by his (neurotypical) father, who made that decision because he was worried that other people would hurt Christian due to ableism.
- The people who say the movie portrays Christian as a “sociopath” are, ironically, falling into the same ableist traps that lead to discrimination against autistics. Christian is not emotionally expressive, but the movie goes out of its way to show, very explicitly, that he cares for other people. He cares for his family, he cares for Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick’s character), he cares for other autistic people (generally & specifically). In fact, in his first appearance, he is shown going out of his way to help strangers by voluntarily helping an elderly couple avoid extra taxes. So, the movie is actually a deconstruction of the “emotionless autistic” stereotype.
(*I think there’s a counter-argument here, though, which is that saying that autistic people are “incapable” of violence can contribute to the infantilization of autistic people/fetishization of autistics as “innocent” and “pure,” which is also Not Exactly A Good Thing.)
The overall message of the film is that “Autistic people are capable of doing amazing things” so, despite a few missteps I’ll talk about below, I think The Accountant is a very important movie and I’m indignant it’s gotten a mixed rep.
Okay, now for the specific cons of the autistic representation in this movie. (There will be spoilers below the read more cut—somewhat minor, though your mileage may vary.)