Since seeing There Will Be Blood in January of 2008, I have been slowly working my way backward through Paul Thomas Anderson’s oeurve, the second one being Punch-Drunk Love. Having autism myself, I don’t know if anyone else has noticed that Adam Sandler’s character, Barry Egan, is clearly “on the spectrum”, though it is never said.
Case in point:
1) Almost completely socially inept and afraid of people
2) Fails to make eye contact or makes contact and then immediately breaks it
3) Paces while on the phone
4) Paces and “dances” and walks funny while in public
5) Stumbles over speech, mumbles, fumbles words
6) Sudden, violent outbursts of anger
7) Obsesses over interests (in this case, the pudding coupons)
8) Meek and passive in personality, but betrays great physical strength (you’d know if you’ve ever had to restrain an autistic child during fits)
9) Sensitivity to light and sound (reflected in cinematography and on the soundtrack)
I have personally exhibited at one time or another (and still do, most of them) all of these traits. In the film, Barry’s stress during the first half of the picture is manifested on the soundtrack by music (by Jon Brion) not dissimilar to Toru Takemitsu compositions, which are designed to steadily increase the viewer’s stress level, thus making his escape to Hawaii that much more relieving. If this turned you off of the film, I’ll state that this is how it’s really like for me and others like me.
Similarly, the cinematographer (Robert Elswit) playing with exposure reflects an autistic person’s sensitivity to bright light and preference to dark spaces.
I also will defend the “romantic comedy” formula in this film, which is downplayed. I may be rationalizing, but I don’t believe Anderson’s message is “True Love Conquers All”. I think he knows better. Barry is stronger because he found someone who understands him and his challenges. He obviously wasn’t getting that from his family. This is exemplified by the final “track-in” and the final line Emily Watson utters, “so here we go…” It’s a new adventure.
Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Does anyone know what P.T. Anderson thinks of the personality of Barry Egan, how he formed the character in the writing process?
“Thinking in Pictures” and “The Way I See It” (Temple Grandin)
Very interesting. I can’t say that I’ve heard this before but I can certainly see each of your points in the film itself. I’ll have to watch it again to give you a better response.
Eh, yeah I see how this is a valid interpretation, however, the “realization” that Sandler’s “only” character he is capable of playing is an “autistic” protagonist isn’t really a new perspective … Sandler has shown this characteristic in his acting profile for years and years … the fact that P.T. Anderson was the first to recognize this aspect of Sandler’s “style” is neither revolutionary nor
Not to diminish Godardimaniac’s interpretation, but really, Sandler has never played a ‘different’ character. All the credit goes to Anderson for recognizing that he can use this overused and, quite frankly, cliched Hollywood-esque extrinsic regurgitation of everything else Sandler has ever done. Should we praise such a thing which perpetrates “good” writing, as opposed to, shitty comedic SNL-influenced bollocks? Just a thought.
^ I think you’re correct but it’s worth asking whether PTA used Sandler in order to showcase this disorder (while not naming it, obviously). It would be interesting to hear it from the Horse’s mouth.
A perfect Cinema21 interview question! Too bad he’s not in it.
Possibly Asperger’s syndrome??? Though, I didn’t think this at all while watching the movie…all I thought was that this man is a really annoying childish character.
He is a just a an eccentric odd ball, an outcast at best. I do not think Barry Egan has autism.
Does anyone know what P.T. Anderson thinks of the personality of Barry Egan, how he formed the character in the writing process?
^^^This. I’ve searched but never found anything substantial. I’ve always thought Barry had Generalized Anxiety Disorder along with a few others, social anxiety, etc…
all I thought was that this man is a really annoying childish character.
Which is how a lot of Aspies are. Certainly I know loads of people find me extremely childish and annoying.
I’ve always thought Egan was autistic. And yes, the incessent music during the phone call as the stress builds and the garish lens flares really do recreate what it’s like for us, or at least give a fairly good idea.
I’m happier to think of the character as a Man-Without-Diagnosis, whose virtues are so peculiar, and so wrapped up with his affective/behavioral problems (problematic of course from the perspective of others), that it’s impossible to extricate one from the other. One of the major charms of the film, its neatest twist, is that in the end the film transmutes every one of his tics and personality deficits into an apt trait – into a virtue. The problem with trying to hang a definite clinical diagnosis on a character like Barry Egan is that, under the capricious fateful hand of the author (screenwriter, director, producer, whoever has a hand in the story), any evident “disorder” can be righted, deus ex machina – especially in the form of romantic comedy: the sick may become well, the dead rise, a poor man can be made immeasurably rich, etc. The order of the movie’s world, being imaginative, isn’t fixed – there is no inflexibly “normative” environment. Whereas the criteria you’ve ticked off, the clinical criteria of a disorder such as is found in the DSM-IV, mean something only when measured against normative psychosocial criteria. By which I mean to say: though some attempt to apply rigorous psychological or psychotherapeutic readings to movies (and in some cases movies have had too strong an effect on psychological diagnoses – see e.g. the history of dissociative identity disorder), it seems to be the wrong way to look at characters in a narrative film. Barry Egan comes out on top in the end of Punch Drunk Love, perfectly adaptive – by Anderson’s whim – where before he seemed out-of-place in the world—but the “world” itself has also flipped – that’s the formal narrative trick…
I was actually working on a short essay on that very subject. I myself am on the Autism spectrum (Asperger’s syndrome). For the past year and a half I have been collaborating on my first feature film with a journalist friend of mine whom I had meet at a clinic for people on the spectrum. I would have also added Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood as another character displays many of the condition related to autism:
1) Almost completely socially inept and afraid of people (as Yoda said fear lead to anger and anger leads to hate)
6) Sudden, violent outbursts of anger
7) Obsesses over interests (in Plainview’s case, oil and making money)
It is interesting to note the type of job Barry Egan works at, a shipping warehouse at a bland sterile industrial park. Nobody would choose such a carer, it is the kind of job you get at a job placement office. Anderson portrays one person with similar symptoms as succeeding financially in one time period but faltering in another. While emotionally the results are exactly the opposite.
This is a movie out there that interests me, it’s an independent production, a love story, where the lead is a man with Asperger’s. I wonder if anyone has seen it.
Regarding Punch Drunk Love, It never crossed my mind that Barry Egan could be autistic. Obviously, there was something very odd about him… And there was something odd about Lena Leonard as well… I wonder what her psychological make-up would be in relation to Barry. Why she would choose him as a lover…
Thanks to Godardimaniac for the post. It was interesting to read. I’d very much like to revisit Punch Drunk Love with this idea in mind.
Im not a big fan of mental disorders. I think a good 75 percent of parents that allow the doctors to diagnose their children with autims are just trying to aviod doing their job as parents. I like this topic because film can be a great way to show what a disease can do, for example I recently saw Days of Wine and Roses and it really shows how destructive and confusing alcoholism can be.
But could it be that maybe Egan’s behaviour was more a couse of norture than nature?
Maybe his condition was more a result of being the only male in a family full of castrating females.
@The Auteurs (in 3-D)
“I think a good 75 percent of parents that allow the doctors to diagnose their children with autism are just trying to aviod doing their job as parents.”
That is a pretty cynical and ignorant thing to say. Autism is not like a virus, where you either have it or you don’t. It is a complex association of a persons ability to comprehend various kinds of mental and social situations. Everyone has a different ability to comprehend the varying factors that determine his or her placement on the Autism spectrum quotient (or AQ).
Are you actually insisting that doctors just give diagnoses based on whatever the patient wishes was the diagnosis? Are you actually insisting that parents actually want their children to have autism in order to shirk any responsibility as a parent? Have you actually known any parents who have children with autism? Well I can say that I was recently diagnosed with Asberger’s syndrome and I do know parents of children with far more severe forms of Autism. And I can tell you that the process of diagnosis is much more complicated then just “bend over, turn your head and cough”. I can not tell you about parents who actually wish that their children have autism because I have never met any. But I can tell you that the parents I know who have children with autism are absolutely devastated. Speaking from my own experience it is absolute HELL living in a world were everyone expects you to be “normal” when you don’t even know what normal is!
If you ask me the whole “is it nature or nurture” is getting kind of old. Yes our parents and our peer group do determine a lot of things that we associate with our personality, tastes, ethics and values. But if a person has a physical disability nurturing him into doing something that he is physically unable to do would not help. A person who is blind to frequencies of light within the 700–635 nm spectrum is not going to be “trained” into seeing RED.
And I don’t know what parents who actually wish that their children had autism. Right now there is a very dangerous phenomenon that is occurring in wealthy countries such as the United States and Britain where parents are refusing to vaccinate their children over fears regarding autism. My father refused to vaccinate me as a child over bogus medical claims and my mother had been lead to believe that a diet low in casein and gluten would help relieve the symptoms of my disorder. Thankfully I live on my own now and have since received my inoculations, before I ever came down with measles, mumps, rubella, polio or tetanus. Though unfortunately most parents are not as well informed and take their medical advice from people like Jenny McCarthy, Susan Surrandon (I just had to gag when I saw one of that ignorant old hag’s books in the recent Sex in the City movie), Glenn Beck, Bill Maher or worse yet Kevin Trudeau. As a result there are growing pockets of unvaccinated around the US, Britain and many other wealthy nations and these terrible diseases which used to take the lives of many many children over fifty years ago, and continue to do so in many other nations around the world, now threaten to return.
1.My point is that now a lot of parents are drugging their children so they don’t have to deal with their behaviour problems.
2.How many people older than 30 do you know that have autism? Im not sure if its vaccines or not but the high number of cases of atism is not natura.
3. Parents should just stop being lazy and find ways to communicate with their children. A lot of times autism is nothing more than a different way of communicating. We just have to stop drugging the kids and learn to communicate with them.
Didn’t want to start a new topic so…
I watched this movie on Comcast ON Demand over the course of a couple days because I couldn’t fit a meager 90 minute sit down into my days, but… in a way this helped me document all of the different red and blue/violet color schemes throughout the film. Does anyone have an interpretation of this color combination?
There is the female-red/pink and male-blue/violet sex signs
There is the electromagnetic spectrum which has red with longer wavelengths than a violet
But, I was confused by the man in red in the supermarket… How does this fit in? How does Barry’s purple tie in several scenes explain the mixture of red and blue symbols?
I’ve read some scathing comments about this film over the years, and a good friend of mine hated the movie. However, I found it very convincing and I thought the two leads were quite charming. I was quite moved by it.
I had always assumed that Barry had something like autism. I was puzzled as to why Emily Watson’s character would go for a guy as weird as Barry – but that’s the strange thing about love, ain’t it?
I thought I would also add, after seeing it again, autistic people generally wear the same types of clothes – or the same clothes day after day. Barry Egan appears in his blue suit in every scene of the picture, save for the hotel room in Hawaii, where he is in a white bathrobe. This is addressed somewhat early in the film as a recent development in the character, but I thought it’s worth mentioning.
I really think there are too many similarities between this character and folks on the spectrum to be mere coincidence or writing quirks. I’m willing to bet someone Anderson knows is autistic.
And who’s this “J.D.” in the dedication during the end credits?
-autistic people generally wear the same types of clothes – or the same clothes day after day-
So do people who work on Wall Street, people who work at McDonalds, Steve Jobs, and many senior citizens.
OK, blue suit, blue tie
blue suit + Red dress
later, blue suit + red tie
Anderson said it was inspired by a suit he saw in Minelli’s The Band Wagon.
plus purple shopping carts
He totally is on the "spectrum"and it makes the blue suit that much cuter.
Eh. You may be right he’s on the autism spectrum, but I think trying to diagnose Sandler’s behavior is counter-productive to the understanding of the character.
The ‘MMR vaccine’ theory has been pretty much disproven. Or, at least, no evidence has ever been found to support it other than a few parents noticed their children developed autism a little bit after receiving the vaccine. I think current thought is that the higher autism rate is related to auto-immune issues arising from children being raised in antiseptic environments.
Also, I think ‘fashionable’ diseases are often overdiagnosed. And, I think ‘Autism’ is really several different diseases, and in most cases behavioral therapy is more effective than pharmaceuticals. And, that the diagnosis is only relevant if it interferes with a person’s ability to function. Treating a functioning person like his eccentricity is a symptom of a disease isn’t going to help him adapt better.
Disease? In what way is it a disease?
Now you’re gonna get PC on me?
Several different disorders. Or, whichever sterilized term is currently being used by The Great Offended.
There are several people I know who have mild autism spectrum disorders. They socially adapt better when you treat them just like you’d treat anyone else than when you treat them differently. My point is, if you classify functional people in a separate category, you are treating them like they have a disease.
I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to seem PC or anything. I just found the usage of the word disease odd and was inquiring in to why you used it. There’s no reason for you to be mean in response.
Personally I find I tend to fit in better with people when they know about my AS, though that might be because I only tend to tell people about it if I enjoy being with them and if I enjoy being with them then chances are they’re going to be understanding.
I didn’t mean to sound mean, I just detected an accusatory tone in your previous post.
My sophomore roommate in college had Asperger’s. I treated him as an individual just like I would anyone else, and later on he expressed gratitude that I was ‘Unassuming’. I suppose being open about it is better with people who don’t make an effort to be understanding when somebody is acting differently. But I also think that if you classify somebody as a person with a syndrome, you’re going to be treating them like a ‘Special case’ rather than an individual.
Half of all internet addicts are probably at least a little Aspergers-y.
Ah! Okay! Yes! The first time I watched this, which was a few months ago, I thought this immediately about his character. Although, I’m glad to see I am not the only one, as I felt like it seemed accusatory to make psychological assumptions like that about the character, rather than to let him exist on screen with fluidity. Especially since my knowledge of Asperger’s syndrome is limited. But, deep down I wish to hear Anderson’s thoughts on the matter as I wonder if is something he had intended, or just such a good psychological understanding of realistic character through observation that came to fruition? Either way, it was really refreshing to watch.
Here is a Punch Drunk Love analysis that I like.
Several disorders overlap with Autism and Aspergers including OCD. Just because someone behaves in an eccentric manner doesn’t mean they are autistic. Want to know a dead give away? Lack of empathy. That differentiates to the nth degree. Does Sandler’s character show empathy in the film? If so he isn’t on the spectrum.
Let’s also make a distinction between lack of empathy and lack of the social skills that express empathy.
People like to take any eccentricity and call it a disorder, and treat it with medication. It’s only a disorder if it interferes with your functioning, otherwise it’s just who you are.
And I think a lot of kids who get diagnosed with these kinds of disorders actually suffer from one of the following conditions:
-Lack of social confidence
-Expectation of being ignored
And by the way, there is a high correlation between wanting to medicate your kids and your kids having the expectation of being ignored.
A lot of kids stop paying attention to their schoolwork because they’ve figured out elementary school and middle school grades have no impact on their future career, or they’ve noticed no correlation between their effort and their grades. Take them to a shrink, his answer, “MEDICATE EM!”
Furthermore, all parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids out of autism fear mongering are putting anybody with an immune disorder in mortal peril for no good reason.