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Canada2006(112 min)

Directed by Marc Evans, this fascinating character study focuses on the relationship between Linda Freeman (Sigourney Weaver), a woman with high-functioning autism, and Alex Hughes (Alan Rickman), a man who feels partly responsible for the death of her daughter Vivienne (Emily Hampshire), who was killed when a truck crashed into his car. Although no one else blames Alex for the accident, he feels terribly guilty since he emerges with only a nosebleed while his young passenger loses her life. To address these traumatic feelings, he goes to see Vivienne’s mother, but is totally surprised by what he finds. Although she has just learned of her daughter’s death, she shows no signs of sadness or grief. Instead, she is totally preoccupied with finding someone who can perform Vivienne’s chores, which were instrumental in keeping their home perfectly immaculate and orderly, thereby satisfying Linda’s obsession with cleanliness. More specifically, that means finding someone who will handle the garbage bags and carry them outside, a task Alex is very willing to perform as a kind of penance. Agreeing to stay with her for a few days until she can find someone else to fill in, Alex also arranges Vivienne’s funeral, which becomes another way of tidying up Linda’s life. Although the film focuses on the emerging relationship between Linda (a woman with autism who is indifferent to friendship but forced to deal with disruption and death) and Alex (a neurotypical who must confront trauma and guilt), as Stuart Murray observes in Representing Autism, “the overall arc of the narrative is still more concerned with a central male protagonist,” one who is neurotic rather than autistic. This choice is all the more problematic when we consider the rarity of having an adult woman with autism as an important character in a fictional film.

In preparation for playing the role of Linda, Sigourney Weaver extensively researched the subject of autism. As her primary model, she relied on Ros Blackburn, a remarkable woman with ASD who writes and speaks about the differences between high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome. When interviewed by Adam Feinstein (The History of Autism), Ros Blackburn told him, “I have been made aware that other people have feelings. But I can’t imagine what other people are thinking or feeling until I’m told…. I don’t know from looking at people whether they’re happy or sad, interested or bored. “ When Feinstein asked her how “disabled” she felt by her autism, she replied: “I might as well be paralyzed from the neck down, and have no one to push the wheelchair, because of my autism. I do not have the social ammunition, the flexible thinking, to be able to go out and handle things.” When asked whether she sees herself as having autism or Asperger’s syndrome, she claimed. “I don’t want friends… People with Asperger’s syndrome do like and wish for the social contact. I know a lot of people with Asperger’s and they all want to be my friends. I need people. It’s a totally different thing. They talk about autistic people as being `trapped’ in their own world. I’m not trapped at all—I choose to be in there.”

In addition to being the opening night screening at the Berlin Film Festival, Snow Cake was an official selection at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and Seattle International Film Festival. Given its subject matter, it was also screened and discussed at the Autism Cymru 2nd international conference in May 2006.

Marsha Kinder

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