In what has become a difficult subject matter to navigate, thanks to the politicization and disinformation campaigns behind its cause, the understanding and appreciation the autistic community seems to have taken an gratuitous backseat in our societal mindset. Thankfully though, the new film Among Us offers an authentic and insightful look into the everyday lives of those affected by the often-misunderstood condition, a look that is refreshingly free of political or divisive commentary, or agenda.
Helmed by acclaimed director Lin Cheng-shen as a follow up to his 2010 documentary Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars, Among Us operates as a fly-on-the-wall look into the daily lives of four young adults, each with their own unique place on the autism spectrum. Utilising the connective thread of the DB Art Collective, a facility in Taipei’s Guandu district run by Han Shu-hua (director Lin’s wife), the film observes a number of social projects, including art and music therapy implemented to assist their autistic attendees, and their supportive families.
Arguably one of the most effecting attributes of the film is the lack of pretence Lin’s camera brings to the loose narrative, allowing his subjects Shu-wei, Pei-hsuan, Hui-lun and Ting-wei, whose non-verbal communication comes via a note pad with pre-written characters, to infuse the film with humour, insight and unique perspectives that are at once intriguing and relatable.
And while the film doesn’t shy away from the struggles of navigating a city such as Taipei with a psychological disadvantage, or the heartfelt loneliness faced by the parents of children that seem withdrawn from social norms, the film’s revelation instead comes with the complete acceptance of our protagonist’s individuality. From the expressive poetry composed by Ting-wei, to the tenacity of Hui-lun who leaves home for a week after an argument with his mother, there’s no overt sentiment to Lin‘s depiction of his subjects. Nor is any required.
Among Us is at its core a character study of four diverse personalities, shaped under the influence of autism and each of whom offer a nuanced and compelling focal point to a casual and uplifting narrative, without skirting the darker aspects or domestic frustrations that come with the self-awareness that you function differently than the majority of those around them.
Having drawn its funding from a crowdfunding initiative, Lin Cheng-shen has quietly opened a door, allows his audience to shed unnecessary discomfort, and instead genuinely connect, appreciate and embrace a condition, and a community to which their experience and understanding may be somewhat limited.