Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ben X

Talk about a movie that deserves to be seen, this is one.  Coming out of Belgium from first-time director Nic Balthazar, Ben X is based on Balthazar's novel Niets was alles wat hij zei (Nothing was All He Said).  Ben, who has Asperger's Syndrome, struggles to fit in the world of teenagers and school.  He plays an online battle video game avidly; in the universe of the game, he's a highly-ranked, nearly invincible warrior.  As he prepares for school each day, he mentally tries to put on the attributes of his avatar as he does in the game.
If only we could change our real selves as easily as we can change our video game alter egos.
At school he is relentlessly bullied and humiliated.  His daily "power up" times before the mirror finally begin to pay off as he gains confidence to act, but his real confidence booster comes when his on-screen female fellow warrior shows up in his real world.  Ultimately he gets some revenge, but not in the way I thought he might.

The blending of Ben's fantasy life and real life opens a window into Ben's mind.  As he confronts the school bullies, they become the monsters he fights in his game.  I don't know enough about Asperger's to know how true-to-life this portrayal is, but I do know it's a wide-ranging syndrome, so this could very well be consistent with some.  In any case, telling the story from the perspective of the outcast gives the rest of us pause; who is the Ben in our lives?

Bottom line, 4 stars.

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