Sunday, March 12, 2017

X + Y ( A Brilliant Young Mind )


Perhaps for the first time ever I want to comment on the title first because this film has two. X + Y for its home country release in the United Kingdom and ironically it has a dumbed down version, A Brilliant Young Mind, for the American market. While I understand the marketing reasons, the title X + Y speaks more of the story and its theme, not just referring to the mind of one character.

X + Y speaks math. Ender’s Game lead and could-have-been Spider-man Asa Butterfield stars as Nathan Ellis, a diagnosed autistic who has a penchant for patterns and subsequently a liking for math which developed into a range far beyond his peers at a local school.

X + Y means the addition of two unknown variables which for much of the movie is communication. No less than Nathan said it at the beginning that he wants to reach out. He’s living inside his head. He has ideas only that he can’t talk as well as the others.

The symptoms of Nathan’s condition make social interaction awkward. Like many cinematic depictions of autism he likes patterns and predictability; gets upset when it doesn’t. This is shown by his mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) stressing over food everyday because Nathan wants it in prime numbers. 

Math relaxes him I think because it rationalizes the world. Martin Humphreys (Rafe Spall) his professor and math coach used math just by playing with the number 14 – which means 2 weeks to the day before coming home – to relax Nathan on his first time out of the country. Being in Taiwan – out of the country and with strangers – for the preparatory round of the International Math Olympiad (IMO), the unpredictability has increased.

Finally X + Y can also just mean girl meets boy. Its kinda cliché but it is life. He needs to connect or if lucky fall in love. Nathan's own mother would want him to connect with a contemporary. Connecting with Nathan used to be his father’s purview but he died. His mother has had little success since. Zhang Mei (Jo Yang) is now on the docket as it were.

It is very Lost in Translation that Nathan would connect with someone outside of his country and outside of English. Girl and boy; unknown variables of two nations; I just remembered there’s no equal sign which can mean open ended. Like much of life there will be variables that need to try to add up.

The dialogue is mostly ok. I say mostly because in the IMO part it gets hazy with the participants tackling mostly mathematical proofs and rap songs with numbers. It’s as if the participants or the delegates were one not fleshed out except Luke who was clearly meant to stand out. Besides them Julie, Martin, the leaders of the British and Chinese delegates and of course Zhang Mei were properly fleshed out.

The acting is superb all around. I can feel Julie’s frustration very much. I can understand why Martin wants to wall up and I can feel the wall Nathan is already in. Of them all Asa Butterfield and Jo Yang is the film’s best 1-2 punch worthy of the title X + Y. They carried it. You can feel the innocence, the fear, the joy of mutual discovery, the desire to look out – including the occasional confusion on Nathan’s face – for one another.

Framing the story in math which is headache for most people including myself is a strange choice especially if many of characters problems are about connecting and communication. 

But in it works. As X + Y it works.