The Accountant, the highly-anticipated action/mystery thriller starring Ben Affleck, features the Oscar-winning writer/actor/director in a very different sort of role as Christian Wolff; an autistic math-savant, lethal marksman and hand-to-hand combat expert who plies his skills as a sought-after bookkeeper for powerful and shadowy individuals all over the world. But while the film positions Wolff as a heroic and complex figure, some have raised the issue of the film none the less presenting a stereotypical or exploitative image of those on the autism spectrum.
In an upcoming interview with Screen Rant, the film’s director Gavin O’Connor defended he and Affleck’s approach to their unusual new hero.
In the film, Wolff is diagnosed with a high-functioning form of autism as a child, which impedes his social and coping skills but also contributes to a near-superhuman ability to solve puzzles and unravel complex mathematics. To help guard him against a world that often mistreats those who are different, he’s taught by his military-veteran father to hone his unique skills, but also to become a weapons expert and master of the martial arts. When asked about the potential for objections to his film’s portrayal of such a character, O’Connor offered the following:
“I don’t know how it could be exploitative. If anyone ever said that, I don’t know how it could be. Y’know, my intention and Ben’s intention was to celebrate the character; and we did a massive amount of research to make sure that it was authentic and truthful. So I don’t know how anyone could ever think that, but you know, you can’t control what people will say or think. All I know is my intention in making the movie.”
While much of the film is built around unraveling a mysterious conspiracy that Wolff uncovers after being hired to look for evidence of fraud in the byzantine accounting records of an idealistic robotics company CEO (John Lithgow), The Accountant is also fundamentally concerned with presenting Wolff as a more complex character than adults with autism are typically presented as in popular-culture. Many scenes and plot details focus on the fact that he is neither “child-like” nor emotionless, but rather has adult desires, complex emotions, a sense of humor and opinions on art and culture that are simply processed and expressed differently than others.
In the same interview (which will run in full closer to the film’s release date) the Warrior and Miracle director describes a lengthy process of self-education that he and Affleck undertook in order to create the character; grounded in an understanding that no two manifestations of the autism spectrum are identical. However, many films with similar well-meaning intentions have also been described as having missed the mark or presenting an exploitative picture of its subject; and O’Connor has spoken of being “honestly terrified” of such reactions already.
The Accountant will arrive in theaters on October 14th.