3 Stars - Thoughtful
What does it mean to be normal? Does it mean that you act the same way everyone else does? Can it mean that you have the ability to love and be loved? Must it include the ability to express your feelings? These questions are explored in Max Mayer’s story of “Adam,” a handsome but awkward young man coping with Asperger’s Syndrome while living in New York City.
Adam (Hugh Dancy) has just lost his father to an untimely death. With both his mother and father now deceased, Adam is adrift and living on his own. For a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, having a dependable routine is a necessity as it provides him with a reassuring structure. Now in his late 20’s, Adam loses his job due to his inability to understand the objectives given to him by his boss.
Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of Autism that still allows a person to function in society. It can sometimes make a person seem a little odd due to either their obsessive focus on a particular subject or their seeming lack of empathy for the feelings and thoughts of another person. Asking a blunt question (“Why are you fat?”) seems normal. Grasping the nuance of “love” is very hard since it requires a subtle understanding of another person’s feelings.
Beth Buchwald (Amy Irving) is a brainy young writer that moves into the apartment down the hall from Adam and is taken with his charm and good looks. In her attempt to become his friend, she becomes aware of the fact that he is a little different from other men, but Beth grows in her love for him while Adam grows in his dependence on her to take his father’s place in providing him structure for his life.
Needless to say, there are many reasons why relationships don’t work out, but defining what makes for a “loving” relationship is even more difficult. In Adam and Beth’s case, the concern is raised not only by Beth and Adam, but particularly by Beth’s parents. Beth comes from a “normal” and desirable family. Her father is a successful lawyer and her mother is a strong personality committed to building a solid family. Beneath this exterior however, her father bends the law to the point of being criminal and her mother puts up with infidelity in order to preserve her so-called perfect life. Contrasted with the relationship of Beth and Adam, the film explores the universal question of what then is a “normal” relationship.
Being honest is critical for both couples, even if it is not always pleasant. For Beth, it means confronting the hard realities of all of the relationships in her life. What does she say to her parents when they fall off the pedestal upon which she had placed them? What does she say to a person with whom she is falling in love when she realizes that he is incapable of understanding the concept or experience of love? Is being with Adam as only a friend enough to sustain a long-lasting relationship?
The most loving gift we can give to one another is to help each other grow and become the person we were each intended to be. In Adam’s case, he becomes a better person as Beth challenges him, teaches him, models behavior for him. Her loving involvement sets expectations for him that builds up his confidence and gives him the self-assurance and inner discipline that will sustain him throughout the rest of his life. However, she won’t give him the allusion of marriage because it would become just another relationship for him to lean on rather than standing on his own.
Although we don’t know what Beth and Adam’s long-term situation will be, we are given the delightful joy of watching them both grow into stronger and more loving adults that will become lifetime friends. For most of us, that is the “normal” we all seek.
Discussion for those who have seen the film:
In your relationships do you find honesty easy or difficult? Why do you answer as you do?
Having a relationship with a person who suffers an emotional or mental difficulty is a struggle? Would you be willing to get involved as Beth did? Why would you or why would you not?
The hypocrisy of Beth’s parents set her up for relationships struggles. How have your parents impacted your ability to have relationships? How have you become your own person?