Genre: Psychological Drama
Year Released: 2007
Distributor: Film Movement
Running Time: 93 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 15+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Perfect Blue, Rain Man, Molly, Let The Right One In
-The game that Ben plays ArchLord is a real game that was released for PCs.
-Ben X is based on a book called Nothing Was All He Said by Nic Bathazar, who also directed this movie.
-No, this movie has nothing to do with the Ben 10 cartoon. It is funny because X is 10 in Roman numeral terms…
I heard about this movie, but I had some reservations. Sure, the trailer looked interesting, but I was unsure about the synopsis given how the main character is explicitly mentioned to be neuroatypical (more on that later). I thought I would give it a go to see how things would pan out in this cinematic offering from Belgium.
For starters, this film has a very creative opening credits sequence. It uses video game menus that reveal the cast and crew members’ names with both the video game footage and it being integrated into the real footage proper. That was really cool how an independent movie did that. It was a recurring theme with the main character seeing life as an MMORPG even when he’s just walking around. That was a nice touch.
The story deals with Ben who regularly plays the MMORPG game ArchLord on his customized desktop that has a blue glowing mountain base fixed on the computer. He plays it every day before and after school at set times and often pictures himself in game situations as he lives life. Ben also has an online girlfriend named Scarlite who is the only person who “understands” him. ArchLord is an escape since he constantly gets bullied at school.
Oh, yeah. The one thing about Ben that this film hammers down to the audience is that he has a form of psychosis, namely the fact that he recently gets diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Watching how his mental condition was perceived and portrayed was infuriating because I know people diagnosed with Asperger’s who don’t act like Ben. The character has more narrated dialog than regular dialog with the other characters to the point where he unintentionally comes off as mute most of the time. He also is dangerously unaware of his surroundings and doesn’t realize that two of the bullies aren’t his friends who constantly harass him, cuss him out, take his stuff, pull his pants down in front of the whole class which gets filmed and posted online, and at one point, they give him Superman (a hallucinogen) after beating him up in an empty area. The bullying was really intense, but I refuse to believe that someone like Ben would be that uncommunicative about what he suffers. Even Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory was a more realistic character with Asperger’s and I don’t even like that character let alone that show.
Mixing in the regular scenes, there are interviews between Ben’s family, classmates, policemen, and school faculty who talk about this situation with the character. Some of these interviews came off as condescending to people who may have some mental conditions as they describe people like that as “walking volcanoes”, “psychopaths”, and other names that came across as concern trolling.
If you happen to be a screenwriter, let me give you some advice if you are going to give a character some kind of syndrome. It’s the same kind of logic when it comes to writing characters who are POCs, sexual minorities, have physical disabilities, etc.
2: Ask people online and/or in real-life who have said condition.
3: Don’t write a neuroatypical character. Write a character who is neuroatypical. There is a difference, so don’t make it a dominant personality trait.
Okay, there were some good things about Ben X that people could gravitate towards. The production is great. Not just with the video game images, but also with the quick camera cuts like extreme close-ups, fast-paced, clips, or some filtered effects that really invoke the right moods. Many of them revolve around Ben’s perspective which makes them work despite how flawed that character is.
I thought that the main plot with Ben after the pants video went viral had a bad taste in my mouth. I won’t spoil it for you, but I thought it downplayed his eventual suicidal/self-mutilation tendencies. Sure, there were a bunch of double-reverse psychology plot twists where I didn’t know what was going on, but the way Ben’s “revenge plot” happened had me facepalming. Let’s say it gets built on a lie and the fact that his family helped him with it says a lot of disturbing things about them.
All in all, Ben X had an interesting premise, but the execution was lacking. The major factor was the unrealistic and insulting portrayal of Ben’s Asperger’s Syndrome and how they made it the defining trait of his character. The final act of the movie was convoluted despite some good plot twists, but the movie as a whole was frustrating to watch.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you’re an MMORPG fan
Subtract 2 points if you have Asperger’s Syndrome or know someone diagnosed with that condition
-Great visual production
-Unexpected plot twists especially in the 3rd act
-Fine acting from the supporting cast
-Atrocious portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism Spectrum due to a lack of research
-Severely broken aesop
Final Score: 3/10 points
Content Warning: I’d say older teens and up. The bullying is some of the harshest I’ve seen and it’s brutally realistic. There’s also a good deal of language sprinkled throughout. There is some rear nudity with the pants scene which gets played a lot given that it’s a major plot point. Ben even gets drugged in one scene which is very disturbing with how he acts under the influence of Superman. Not to mention the suicide subplot will definitely make people uncomfortable.
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