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The Accountant

The Accountant

Autism usually is taken now as something that owes to genetic mix-up; you're born with it. The Accountant offers dutiful fidelity to this now core assumption but dramatizes it as actually a kind of retreat of the mind -- the older conception of the mental illness -- in face of a consistently undependable childhood environment. Christian Wolff, aka "the Accountant," his brother and sister, are children of a military officer, who requires them to move maybe as much as five times a year. He and his wife aren't dependable either: there is discord in their relationship, which eventually leads to divorce, just before the children have reached adolescence. When you can barely count on the fact that the place you've settled into will last as home beyond a month or two, and when you're just beginning your epic life journey into adulthood and one of the two pillars you're absolutely dependent on falls off the grid for good, no wonder you have a panic attack when you fail to communicate to yourself that some potential to wipe out a frustrating environment exists by your succeeding in completing a jigsaw puzzle. 

There is a sense, though, that the truest way to account for the behaviour of "the Accountant," as an adult, is not actually to explore his autism, because what we see of him in his adult life is made to seem more about how about how key role models responded to him just before his beckoning adolescence. One of them -- a kindly, sweater-wearing, "cozy" therapist -- encourages the father to let his son stay with him, where he will be treated respectfully in an unchanging chateau environment geared not to frustrate him in the way the normal outside world surely would. The other, his father, a stern, grimaced man, staunchly resists the advice, arguing, essentially, that for his son to have a chance of being a full person he's going to have to figure out ways to manage the full maelstrom of adult life, even as he must come at it with a "kick me" placard taped to his back. 

The way it plays out in the movie is not so much therapist vs. parents' will, or Democratic tenderness vs. Republican hard-love, but really as if your home-redolent mother (therapist = mother), seeing you about to begin your turning away from family as you become an adolescent, finding ways to construe you so that you can be an exception, someone who will never escape dependence, and finding her blocked by the will of the father, who is militant in making sure his sons sure as hell get out there. Every child's life up to about the age of twelve, all its empowering (being cherished and loved; knowing the body-heated coven) and restricting (dependency and minimized challenges -- the leash) is in encapsulated in what the therapist offers. And the future, scary (it might pummel the shit out of you) but thrilling (you can discover whole unknown realms of yourself, by yourself), with the father. 

He is required to take the father's way, and it is really the result of this that explains "Christian Wolff," not so much his autism. For the Christian Wolff we see in the film is, yes, an isolated bachelor -- no wife or children -- with daily rituals required to keep his mental equilibrium in order, but mostly someone who has succeeded as an adult. Someone who has chosen a career that reflects his passions -- in his case, being an accountant -- and is capably living independently. Someone who enjoys the life he has made for himself. 

This is not to say, though, that the man who had stepped in to help him -- the therapist -- is de facto entirely maligned in this film. Not at all, actually. Before Wolff had a chance to morph into his adult form, the therapist represented a threat, for his philosophy encouraging a dependency no longer appropriate for him. But with this managed it seems he can be fair, that the film can be fair, to what he also represented: namely, someone truly from outside (so not just "mom" projected out) who makes an effort to show genuine appreciation for you: what good qualities you possess. Whenever Wolff encounters people like this, people who delight in him rather than shun him, he wants to give back, even if in some cases he is rather inexpert at how best to do it. We appreciate it as a gesture of respect, but how does revenge really help his deceased prison-cell roommate, who while delineating for him how he did business, is shown in wonderful interchange with Wolff, teasing him into stretching his limited understanding of people's gesture-communicated meanings, for instance?

We appreciate it as a gesture of respect, but how much does his feeding guaranteed major criminal busts to Ray King, future head of the Treasury Department, who he wanted to thank for remaining a loyal parent to his two boys even while being lousy at everything else at life, encourage a dependency, a sense of unearned achievement, that he himself was spared from? Maybe if Anna Kendrick's Dana Cummings finds her way back into this life, she could help him out with this. As is, his heart, at least, is in the right place. 

No appreciation is however granted to Lamar Black, the head of major Robotics company. There was reason to assume it possible: he's guilty of ordering assassination -- and of people like the sweet, completely decent Cummings, no less -- but he also quite genuinely started up his company, which builds robotics to assist people who've lost limbs, to help others who suffered what his sister had suffered from. Wolff is very family loyal, and for good reason. And with them, his family, the film encourages us to see that any malignancy in their adult form (Wolff's ever-loyal brother goes bad, and through almost all of the film is ostensibly only the restrained but full of dark dominance he knows he can instantly deliver, dark villain who will test Wolff's superhuman capacities to the limit) is not so much their fault as owing to early childhood trauma and neglect, something that can and should be repaired, so why not Lamar? 

I wonder if it might have something to do with Lamar's class... part of an understated attack in the film on those who've lived the easy life, that was a bit in play in how the kindly, New Englandish, preppy therapist was ultimately quitted by the military father's preference on proper fathering. Lamar's life has been affluence and of Cambridge degrees that were pretty much guaranteed him: he could be kindly, even a bit faltering and of weak oversight -- trust people too much -- as CEO of a Robotics company -- the version of him we see throughout until his reveal as far more menacing -- because someone of his pedigree could get away with it. With him the film communicates its one sour note: resentment. And sadly it does have you wonder if the film is an advocate, not just for getting past mental illnesses and traumas, but also at some level for their incurrence: there's something bad, the film argues, about those who have no need of someone else's speaking up for them; for those who knew no real damage. Behind this is a mentality that wants to keep people categorized and owned for their own management. Narrativize yourself as one of the neglected 99%, or else. 


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