Special Needs Adult as an anti-hero?
There has been a steep rise in anti-hero films and TV shows. They’re usually about a hero with a checkered past carrying out morally questionable tasks for a greater good. TV shows like “Breaking Bad” where a man, whose well of opportunities dried up, finds a new enterprise to apply his chemistry genius to become the Southwest’s most notorious meth maker and drug lord. We follow him because at his emotional core he began the journey to pay for his cancer treatment, help a high school dropout and take care of his family. It became a smash hit when the word ‘binge-watching’ came in vogue. There is a cultural fetish for the tainted super heroes such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Logan also known as Wolverine. Mad Max, Hannibal, Nurse Jackie and even the latest movie THE JOKER feature anti-heroes for their leads. Rumor has it that the Joker movie is s a grounded version of a pathetic, outcast who spirals into madness to become Batman’s greatest arch nemesis.
Most movies about special needs, or individuals with handicaps usually portray them as innocent well-intentioned angels that can do no wrong. FORREST GUMP, PEANUT THE BUTTER FALCON, PLEASE STAND BY, LIFE ANIMATED are all special needs films where they are capable of doing anything if someone just allowed them. It’s society would be better off if these individuals are more integrated like regular folks. We have good days and bad days. So do people with special needs. That’s why I wanted to take the risk to let Marcus to be an anti-hero. His unquenchable desire is to connect with a family. But he’s at risk of verbally and physically assaulting anyone in his way to achieve his goal.
Special needs adults have developmental disabilities. It means that they are intellectually and emotionally disabled from learning. Their emotions are as raw as children and their capacity to control them is minimized. As a result, their ability to harness their emotions is severely stunted. Like children, they throw a fit when they don’t get their way, but they are full grown adults that can cause a lot more harm. This is what prompts his caretaker Frank to say, “He’s got a child’s tantrum inside a giant’s body. You’re not safe.“
In the movie, LIFE ANIMATED, they cut short the scene where Owen doesn’t get his way and has a tantrum. PLEASE STAND BY is a film where there are several situations where Wendy should have thrown a fit. Whether it was crossing Market Street or having someone take advantage of her trusting nature, the writer or producers chose not to show this.
Showing their tantrums, I believe, only humanizes them. Think of all the movies where a character falls to their knees, raise their clenched fists in rage at God and scream at the top of their lungs in victory or in defeat. Raw emotions are portrayed when they punch a wall or slam their fist into the steering wheel. We all identify with them because we would probably act similar if that was us. There is even the occasional road rage where we lose control.
But there is a big danger in portraying too many flaws where the audience would lose sympathy and not care.
What if Wendy in PLEASE STAND BY hurt her dog, her sister or her even her new-born nice would we still follow her? The writer highlights this issue in a flashback where Wendy wishes to live with her sister Audrey. As for Audrey, she is terrified of Wendy living with her new-born child.
In developing the screenplay for My Apocalyptic Thanksgiving, this issue came up a few times. How far should we push it to the point that he’s unlikable character?
As the screenplay writer, I placed Marcus in precarious situations where he could easily get frustrated. His typical reactions are to slam his fist, get in your face, hallucinate or even worse. What if he hurt his caretakers Frank and Doris? What if he worked at the laundromat and hurt the Korean family? What if the gang taught him to hurt others for fun?
There was one instance where Marcus pushes Me Young in the shopping cart into traffic. She doesn’t get injured, but we felt that Me Young’s character would not forgive Marcus. He would unlikely be nonredeemable in her eyes since her journey is to learn to forgive. We wanted to make it a difficult one for her but not an unrealistic one to help take him on as her surrogate son.
And it would also make it even that much harder for Marcus to be accepted by a family. The audience may also question his true intentions if he were to be so violent. His would then be his own worst nightmare since he would give people reason to reject him