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An autistic teen who doesn't feel hatred encounters a man consumed by it. | The Stupid Boy

145 Views· 11/12/23
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The Stupid Boy is used with permission from Phil Dunn. Learn more at


London is being terrorized by a group of extreme religious supremacist fanatics committing terrible acts in the name of their religion. Meanwhile, Michael is a young man living with his parents in Brixton. With a different way of looking at the world, Michael has autism and has a hard time seeing people's malice and ill will. This sets him up to be bullied easily at school. His mother wants him to learn to stand up to himself; his father is more patient and understanding.

In another part of London, Stephen is an angry, abused man convinced that people different from him are ruining the world. He sees nothing but greed, evil and repulsion in the world around him. The leader of the supremacist group offers Stephen understanding and a solution to his pain. His path will cross with Michael's one day at a crowded thoroughfare in the city and two fundamental ways of looking at the world will collide.

Directed by Phil Dunn, this powerful short drama is a portrait of two different characters, captured in filmmaking that is both lyrical and sweeping in its sheer emotive power. Through its two main characters, it examines two opposites of emotion and worldview, contrasting one character nursing rage and hate with one who can't perceive and isn't capable of that emotional toxicity. To put it into Stephen's religious worldview, a devil and an angel -- and what happens when they collide.

Juggling two different characters' disparate stories, the writing is excellent, with its layers of meaning and experience, and aided by dynamic visual storytelling that balances the innocence of Michael's story with the darkness of Stephen's. It's careful to establish the disturbing news creeping into Michael's cloistered, protected world, as well as attentive to the conflict and strife he faces, being picked on and bullied at his school. His world, though, is fundamentally a loving one, bathed in clear, gently natural light and cinematography.

But the film also takes time to explore Stephen's world. Shrouded in darkness, shadow and murky colors, it's a much different one from Michael's, profoundly lonely, isolated and full of intense emotion with no outlet. Stephen only experiences a shade of the understanding Michael does, at a meeting of the extremist group he's interested in.

As Michael, actor Joshua Griffin doesn't overplay his character's autism, instead offering a gentle yet powerful performance of someone defined by an ineffable yet undeniable innocence and goodness, one that bears no one any ill will and can't see it in others. As his opposite, actor Shaun Mason has a surface hardness and ferocity, though glimmers of his brokenness come through.

As their two different narrative strands converge, "The Stupid Boy" builds up considerable tension and suspense, leading to an ending sequence that is propulsive and gripping in its storytelling and even transcendent in its belief that hope can endure, even in the hardest of hearts and most desperate of actions. It offers the hope that stepping into another person's experience and seeing into their basic humanity can bring together people who are bitterly divided. Many will think it naive and simplistic, but a character like Michael prompts us to question why compassion and kindness are so hard for us now in the first place.

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An autistic teen who doesn't feel hatred encounters a man consumed by it. | The Stupid Boy


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