Autism Through Cinema
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) dir. Henry Selick

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) dir. Henry Selick

December 24, 2021

Merry festivities! Happy yuletide, one and all, and welcome to... Halloween Town? In a our special festive episode David, Ethan, John-James and Janet gather around the logfire to consider the tales of the musical animation The Nightmare Before Christmas. We were entranced by the protagonist Jack Skellington as an optimistic dreamer who seems to be on a different wavelength to those around him, while his eventual beau Sally watches from the fringes. Perhaps their eventual union is based on neurodivergent romantics? A community of disability is identified among the residents of Halloween Town, and how that helps us relate to the nonsensical nature of the movie musical. We also considered the rumoured autism of creator Tim Burton and how this shapes our interpretation of his singular cinematic vision.

Want to contribute to our discussions? Email us on with your thoughts on this film, or any of the films we've considered so far.

Have a great festive season - we'll be back in January with more episodes. 

Cars (2006) dir. John Lasseter

Cars (2006) dir. John Lasseter

December 10, 2021

We take to the racetrack and speed, drift and power our way through the colourful world or Pixar's Cars this week, as brought to us by special guest Ash Loydon. Ash is an autistic illustrator and huge film fan, and his enthusiasm for the exploits of Lightning McQueen and Mater are utterly infectious. We reflect on what it is about the smooth edges and expressive faces of John Lasseter's cartoon vehicles that appeals to Ash and his autistic family, and how such franchise can appeal to the tendencies of autistic people to take pleasures from collecting and collating memorabilia. We also enjoyed the sensory world in the lovingly created landscapes of the film, and considered how the careful pacing appeals to the autistic mindframe. We consider the cars themselves as living objects, and greatly enjoyed the depth of the fantasy of the extended world.

Ash Loydon's art can be seen on his website and follow him on Twitter for his latest news:

Joining Ash today were John-James Laidlow, David Hartley, Janet Harbord, and Alex Widdowson.

If you're enjoying the podcast, please subscribe and you can review us on Apple Podcast. We're also very happy to receive feedback or comments - just email us on

Phenomena (1985) dir. Dario Argento

Phenomena (1985) dir. Dario Argento

November 26, 2021

We take a grisly turn this week with a foray into the violent, haunting, and dangerous world of Dario Argento via his bizarre 1985 giallo horror Phenomena (known as Creepers in the US). Jennifer Connolly stars as an american schoolgirl adrift in a Swiss academy while a brutal killer stalks the wilderness outside. We were intrigued by the eponymous phenomena of telepathic insects and enjoyed the film's brief considerations of insect minds as a form of neurodiversity. We also enjoyed Argento's signature cinematic energy as a potential expression of autistic sensory intensity, but we struggled with the excessive violence and ableism of the film's final melodramatic act. We also gave due consideration to the chimpanzee Inga, who we all agreed was the film's finest actor...  

Our extra special guest for this episode is autistic researcher, musician and beekeeper Dr Gemma Williams. We loved having Gemma on the show and we would urge you all to check out her research papers and her brilliant musical output. You can find links to all of Gemma's work here:

Alongside Gemma, you also hear the thoughts and opinions of our regular hosts John-James Laidlow, Janet Harbord, and David Hartley.

Follow us on twitter @AutismCinema and send us your reflections on our discussions to


Amelie (2001) dir Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Amelie (2001) dir Jean-Pierre Jeunet

November 12, 2021

We take the whimsical streets of Paris for Jean-Pierre Jeunet's cult classic Amelie in today's episode, brought to us by our very special guest autistic film journalist Lillian Crawford. We take great pleasure in revisiting Amelie from an autistic perspective, finding neurodivergent expression in the heightened audio and visual richness of Jeunet's film. Amelie herself is a character who uses various autistic techniques to figure out the people she meets, by using objects and wordplay rather than direct communication to reach her understandings. Things are not entirely rosy: concerns are raised about the film's adherence to heteronormativity, as well as a lack of non-white characters, as well as its sanitised vision of a picture-perfect vision of Paris.

Huge thanks to Lillian Crawford for bringing this film to the podcast. We've all become big fans of Lillian's writing on film, and we'd very much encourage you to seek her words out. Visit her website here: and follow her on Twitter here:

You also heard the voices of our regulars John-James Laidlow, Alex Widdowson and Janet Harbord.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007) dir. Craig Gillespie

Lars and the Real Girl (2007) dir. Craig Gillespie

October 29, 2021

We welcome special guest Natalie Marcus to the podcast, who brings along the curious romantic comedy Lars and the Real Girl (2007) for discussion. The film depicts a shy and socially awkward man played by Ryan Gosling who buys himself a sex doll, calls it Bianca, and treats it as his real girlfriend. Rather than a gratuitous and crude sex comedy, or a saccharine depiction of an autistic outsider, we were surprised to find a gentle and careful film that does an honest job of exploring alternative social existence. We talk around themes of social rehearsal, the animism of objects, and the incorporation of neurodiversity into communities. There are some concerns raised around the patriarchal control that Lars has over Bianca, but we welcomed the way the film attempts to show how learning important social lessons around gender can be enriching.

On this recording you hear Natalie Marcus, David Hartley, John-James Laidlow, Georgia Bradburn and Janet Harbord.

Have any thoughts on this film?

Email us on or tweet us at @AutismCinema

Asylum (1972) dir. Peter Robinson

Asylum (1972) dir. Peter Robinson

October 15, 2021

Peter Robinson's documentary Asylum places a film crew within an experimental psychiatric home set up by the radical psychiatrist R.D. Laing, where they observe and interact with the schizophrenic patients who live there in the late 60s. The Autism Through Cinema team discuss the film in relation to the anti-psychiatry movement, counter-cultural ideologies, and the ethics of film crew intrusion into the lives of the documentary's subjects. We reconsider the footage in the light of the neurodiversity paradigm, and bring many of our own personal and familial experiences with care institutions to bear on what we've encountered in Robinson's film. We wonder about Laing's own charisma and authority in his brief appearances, while also linking our thoughts out to other films that feature 'asylums' like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Girl, Interrupted. Finally, at the last moment, glamour model Katie Price makes an unexpected appearance.

Content warning: we do discuss experiences within psychiatric institutions, so please take care if this is an issue for you.

In this episode you hear Alex Widdowson, Janet Harbord, David Hartley, and Georgia Bradburn. 

Mary and Max (2009) dir. Adam Elliot, & Pixar shorts Float (2019) & Loop (2020)

Mary and Max (2009) dir. Adam Elliot, & Pixar shorts Float (2019) & Loop (2020)

October 1, 2021

In this very animated episode, the team turn their attention to a pair of SparkShorts from Pixar that deal directly with autistic experience; Float (2019) by Bobby Rubio, and Loop (2020) by Erica Milsom. Followng this, they pull apart the imagery, metaphors and characters of Adam Elliot's stop-motion feature length film Mary and Max (2009). They consider what animated film can do for the depiction of autism that is not as easily acheived in live-action, while also debating the ethics of working in collaboration with real autistic individuals. Loop, for example, features the vocal contributions of minimally verbal actor Madison Bandy, while Mary and Max was directly inspired by Elliot's real-life autistic penpal. We also consider the depiction of trauma, the relationship between autism and age, and the use of caricature and the grotesque.

In this episode you hear Janet Harbord, Alex Widdowson, John-James Laidlow, Georgia Bradburn and David Hartley.

For more on the Autism Through Cinema project, check out our website: Follow us on Twitter at @AutismCinema, and send us messages on cinemautism[at]

Keep the Change (2017) dir. Rachel Israel

Keep the Change (2017) dir. Rachel Israel

September 17, 2021

We've addressed concerns in past episodes about autistic characters being portrayed by non-autistic actors. Well here, with Rachel Israel's romantic drama Keep the Change, we get the opportunity to enjoy a film with a predominantly autistic cast. Brandon Polansky plays David, an aspiring filmmaker whose life takes an unexpected turn when he's assigned a partner from his Community Centre workshop in the form of the vivacious and energetic Sarah, played by Samantha Elisofon. We find the presence of non-professional autistic actors to be a refreshing and exciting change from the norm, while also delighting in the representation of autistic individuals as deeply emotional and romantic. There were some concerns about how we were supposed to relate to David as a character who makes a number of distasteful decisions, but we were utterly charmed by his beau, Sarah, played with such energy and verve by Elisofon. We consider the representation of learning difficulties in relation to Sarah's misunderstanding of jokes, as well as the exploration of autism in relation to gender.

Keep the Change is being screened as part of our Autism and Cinema season on Tuesday 28th September at 6pm. There will be a talk hosted by Steven Eastwood and the Neurocultures Collective afterwards, and tickets are still available on the Barbican website:

If you have any thoughts or comments about this episode, feel free to email us on

On this episode you hear David Hartley, Janet Harbord, Georgia Bradburn and Alex Widdowson


Temple Grandin (2010) dir. Mick Jackson

Temple Grandin (2010) dir. Mick Jackson

September 3, 2021

In Mick Jackson's TV film Temple Grandin, Claire Danes shines in the title role, portraying one of the world's most famous autistic women. Temple is shown to be a formidable force of nature as she takes on the professors of her college, and the workers of the feedlot where she will eventually design her famous cattle chute system. We discuss how the film makes use of animation techniques to offer a visualisation of Temple's way of 'thinking in pictures', although we reserve concerns that this may essentialise autism a little too much. We consider Temple in relation to her gender as a strong female character in many very masculine environments, and what impression this leaves us for thinking through autistic femininity.

Temple Grandin will be screened on the 16th September at our Autism and Cinema season at the Barbican, London. The film will be followed by a short pre-recorded interview with the real Temple, and then a Q&A with podcast host Dr David Hartley, and Dr Bonnie Evans, author of The Metamorphosis of Autism. Tickets are free and can be bought from the Barbican website:

If you have enjoyed this episode, please leave us a comment or feedback, or get in touch on cinemautism[at]

Orlando (1992) dir. Sally Potter

Orlando (1992) dir. Sally Potter

August 20, 2021

The podcast takes a queer turn as we link up with Sally Potter and Tilda Swinton and Virginia Woolf through Potter's exuberent time-bending period drama, Orlando. We enjoy the film's take on the artifice of society, which we connect with the autistic way of viewing the often nonsensical neurotypical world. Swinton's intimate fourth-wall-breaking gaze befriends the autistic viewer in a wry nod of collaboration, but also evokes the spectre of eye-contact which has such an emblematic status in the world of autism. We also take some time to reflect on the theory of the 'neuroqueer', as explored by Remi Yergeau's influential book Authoring Autism and Nick Walker's blog, via the film's timeless questioning of gender binaries and boundaries. 

If you have any thoughts or comments on this episode, send us an email at

In today's episode you heard Georgia Bradburn, John-James Laidlow, David Hartley, and Janet Harbord. 

Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App