As Good as it Gets


Just occasionally the Universe stops us, points a finger and asks:

‘Are you listening, can you hear me?’

I was planning on writing about the vital role that movies have played in my life, but I didn’t have a clear structure.

Yesterday I watched ‘The Descendants’ and the Universe pointed at me.

I was listening and I heard!

The Descendants

George Clooney’s character is married and has 2 school age children.

His wife is in a coma and having always been the ‘back-up parent’ and ‘understudy,’ he is on a very steep parental learning curve.

I identified with Clooney’s character immediately.

  • He was a man caught up in his work, in a professional field
  • He didn’t seem to have any friends either

He also seemed quite disconnected from everyone.

  • This could simply have been due to the trauma of his wife’s condition
  • But there seemed to be something else going on, at least for me


Despite his apparent disconnectedness from other people, he seems to feel a deep connection with his ancestry.

But what really struck me was the way in which he handled what I would consider high stress situations.

At the very moment when I would have probably lost my patience, Clooney’s character shows great control.

  • He responds with questions that indicate he is listening to and has heard the other person
  • His responses are positive, with no indication of hostility
  • He responds mostly without any hint of criticism
  • But he seems to do all of this in an almost zombie-like state
  • It is as if he had mastered the maze of social responses and how/when to execute them
  • But his responses seemed lacking in and perhaps even devoid of empathy

So I wondered if this level of social finesse is something I might be able to learn?

The movies

Having lived my life as a social outcast, movies have been my teacher, my friend and my lifeline.

Particularly in the years before mass social-media.

  • I have used movies to learn skills such as listening, presentation and negotiation
  • I have watched movies to learn what a healthy ‘functional’ family behaves and looks like

Movies allow me to emotionally experience what I have been cut-off from experiencing socially

  • So I can experience a sense of belonging with movies where I connect strongly with characters or the story
  • When I see kindness in a movie, I can actually take beneficial ownership of the kindness
    • Yes, I know, I really do need to get a life 🙂

I have a fairly extensive knowledge of movies and have memorized 100’s of lines from my favorite movies.

  • I suppose movies are one of my lifelong Special Interests.

Fortunately, this is a socially acceptable form of special interest, since films have universal appeal regardless of neurology.

I can easily keep up in conversations about movies

  • In fact I usually end up ‘holding Court’ when discussing films!
  • I can and do connect very quickly with people who share my love of cinema
  • But there is rarely if ever any follow through, so these are fleeting moments of connection

The movie paradox

I can quickly identify the main theme of a movie.

I also find it very easy to read the non-verbal cues of the actors, even in movies with more complex story lines

  • Being able to pause a DVD of course makes this easier

It seems clear to me that with movies I am able to input and process the social interaction information, relatively easily and successfully.

So I wonder if this might be the key that could unlock my social door?

Are my analytical skills with movies transferable to the social domain?

  • I think the answer is yes and no

With self-motivation, I can certainly improve the quality of my social communication

But unlike a movie, social interaction is two-way

  • It requires the use of reciprocity, that elusive empathy regulator!
  • There is no pause button either!
  • So I use open questions as my metaphorical pause button in conversations

But regardless of how successful I might become with this, the reality is that:

  • in order to be more socially successful, I have to adopt the persona of a social anthropologist
  • because my hard-wiring makes this the only option for me

The social anthropologist

As much as I enjoy analytical thinking, this faculty is designed primarily for non-social information processing.

It can be quite exhausting processing social information using my analytical/intellectual faculties

  • Probably as exhausting as it is for most people to discuss physics all evening!

But more devastating is the alienation I feel as a result of having to interact with my own species as though I were a Zoologist.

  • I am not making a value judgement with this statement
  • I truly would love to be able to intuitively connect with people socially
  • But it is difficult to feel a sense of connection with people that I experience as jigsaw puzzles
    • with missing pieces
    • and no puzzle picture to work from

Behavior therapies seem to be some of the most effective ways of helping Autistic people to interact better with others.

  • But even where this is successful, it seems quite unusual for Autistic people to develop genuine social intuition

So maybe this is as good as it gets.

As Good as it Gets

In this movie, Jack Nicholson plays a highly intelligent man who is clearly somewhere on the neuro-diverse spectrum.

I related very well to the way in which his character, unintentionally and with no ill will, manages to upset others with his words.

Here’s a  short scene which I think captures the worst and the best of my Asperger’s in social interaction.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Michele Schwien (@MLSchwienD)
    Oct 08, 2012 @ 08:34:28

    Beautiful scene. Even before the actual “pill compliment” he was impressive with “Don’t be pessimistic; it’s not your style.”


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