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‘Patterns’ A short documentary by Kirsten Sheridan Essay

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that shapes the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. People with autism have difficulties with everyday social interactions, learning disabilities and difficulty in making sense of the world. Kirsten Sheridan found an interest in this and chose to portray it in a brief documentary. She lived with her autistic cousin and he was a strong influence on her which got her interested in autistic people. The short film is about an autistic boy and the way he sees things from his point of view and how he interprets things.

I will be analysing; the way Tommy acts compared to the other characters in the film, the different types of sounds used to represent whats going on in Tommys head, camera angles, movement, lighting, colour and editing. Also, I will be looking at the patterns and shapes established or repeated throughout the film.

At the start of the film, there is a homely rhythmic guitar chord playing when Tommy is walking down the corridor alone. By doing this, Kirsten Sheridan gives the audience the awareness that Tommy is a simple person and that he likes things in a pattern or order. You can hear children playing outside; this makes us assume that Tommy is different as he was isolated from everyone else. The long camera shots show us that Tommy is walking with his head down and taking heavy steps like he is trying to block out all the noises going on around him.

At the beginning of Patterns a plain, black and white check pattern is already established and gives us the notion that this pattern will be shown throughout the film. When Tommy was at school he couldnt walk across the black and white tiled floor because he was puzzled and couldnt understand the pattern. Kirsten Sheridan illustrated this by having a scene where Tommy is stood still, staring at the floor, trying to figure out the pattern. Jimmy helps him by telling him to look up and they both count in odd numbers whilst running across the floor. Most autistic people count in odd numbers, prime numbers and so on.

In the film you can tell that Tommy is autistic or has something wrong with him because he doesnt face people when they are talking to him, he tends to turn away. When Tommy and Jimmy are walking home from school, Tommy is talking to Jimmy with his back to him, when Tommy says What time is it Jimmy? And Jimmy says Ten minutes past four. Autistic people are likely to face away from the person they are talking to.

Kirsten Sheridan uses a mixture of sounds and camera shots to show unusual aspects of Tommys autism. When Tommy comes home from school and his Mother asks him what he wants for dinner, Tommy hears a lot of different noises in the house, which results in Tommy shaking and holding his head and shouting I dont want anything to eat. Tommys Mother gives him too many choices and autistic people like things in order or something they can put in a pattern. Kirsten Sheridan muffles all the sounds, which are going on around Tommy, together so it sounds confusing for the audience to hear what is going on, so we can hear what Tommy is hearing. He then goes into the bathroom and turns the tap on to watch the water run down the drain, the repetitive pattern of the running water settles him down and puts things back in order. The close up camera shot of the running water shows us what its like from Tommys viewpoint.

Tommy and Jimmy go outside to play on the swing. Jimmy is pushing Tommy on the swing and they are both laughing. Tommy appears to be enjoying this as he is in a calm, relaxed and ordered environment. Kirsten Sheridan uses a camera shot from Tommys point of view, in this scene, to show us the repeating pattern of seeing the grass then the sky.

Kirsten Sheridan shows a distinct line between the ways the other characters dress to the way Tommy dresses. Tommy is dressed in dull, dreary, dark clothes whereas his brother Jimmy is dressed in the complete opposite, in bright and vivid colours to show that he is a typical 8 year old. This gives us the sense that Tommy is unlike everyone else. This helps us distinguish who is autistic. Also Tommys speech and accent is different to everyone elses, the other characters all talk with an Irish accent but Tommy talks with an English accent.

In one of the scenes the family are sat at the dinner table, Tommy and Kathleen are talking. What was my baby today? Kathleen says. Tommy replies He was the best baby, and Kathleen was very proud wasnt she? This shows that Kathleen isnt very close with Tommy as he refers to her as Kathleen not Mum.

Tommy takes things that people say literally. Tommys Dad said he will be at home at 6 oclock and Tommy expects him to come through the door at exactly 6 oclock. Sheridan shows this by having a scene where Tommy is sitting on the stairs in front of the door waiting until the time was precisely 6 oclock. He was making clicking noises while looking intently at the door waiting for his Dad to come home. Autistic people take what you say literally; in contrast, non-autistic people dont take what people say literally because the person isnt exactly going to know whats going to happen in the future.

At the dinner table, Tommy is picking letters out of his bowl to spell numbers, when he cant find the T to spell eight he starts making clicking noises with his mouth and flicking his soup everywhere. His parents dont know what to do, so then Jimmy starts tapping a rhythm on the table which calms Tommy down and seems to put everything back in order in Tommys brain. Autistic people like things in order. The camera shots Kirsten Sheridan uses in this scene are very efficient, as they show us what its like to be in Tommys mind. The camera rotates around the dinner table very swiftly, this makes you feel dizzy and awkward which gives us and insight to what Tommy feels like.

Tommy is in his room listening to music when the record starts to jump which causes him to have a panic attack. Kathleen rushes over to him and tries to control him but that does nothing except instigate the problem even more. So then Jimmy has to come in and help Tommy calm down, while Kathleen stands in the doorway crying. And Tommy says Bye now Kathleen. Not realising that his Mother was upset. Autistic people are often unaware of other peoples emotions and facial expressions.

Near the end of the film Kirsten Sheridan adds a turning point, where Tommy starts to let go of his brother and the assistance he gives him. Tommy says to Jimmy Time to go now, so bye now. Jimmy responds with Youll be on your own so. Tommy appreciates what Jimmy says and goes inside leaving Jimmy to go and play with his friends. Tommy becomes more independent at this point and this is the initial start to Tommy and Jimmy leading their individual lives.

Throughout the study of Patterns I have discovered that Jimmy is a big part of Tommys life and I have presented the problems caused from Tommys autism. I think this short film is a clever method of presenting to non-autistic people the way an autistic person acts, behaves and why they do so. It also gives an inside view of how an autistic person has to deal with everyday life.


the short documentry by Kirsten Sheridan.

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