Ben X (Dutch)

How many reasons does one need to commit suicide? Ideally, there should be no reasons, but for some, life gets to be a little too much to bear. Now imagine being a teenager with severe Asperger’s syndrome trying to survive in the “normal” world of high school, an already treacherous few years for most kids to begin with. For Ben (Greg Timmermans), his life is made a living hell from bullies and a general lack of knowledge surrounding his condition in Ben X.


A social outcast and introvert, Ben tries to mind his own business and make it through school without too much mental, and often physical, anguish. His exasperated mother tries to calm her son at all costs, but ultimately knows how futile her efforts are in reaching her son in his own world. The only escape Ben finds is in playing a World of Warcraft knock-off and communicating with his online flame, Scarlite.

The unfortunate aspect about Ben X, apart from the tragic storyline, is the off-putting cinematography. The initial scenes are split between gameplay, real-life and flashbacks, which somewhat diminishes your immediate interest in the film. I wouldn’t blame anyone for giving up on it within the first twenty minutes, but it would be a shame considering the rest of the film is incredibly gripping.

Timmermans is absolutely superb in portraying Ben’s infinite confusion with the way the world works. As a child with Asperger’s, Ben has to basically teach himself how others think due to his completely unorthodox view of the world. We get a glimpse at his methods of learning social cues and practicing “normal” behavior such as proper smiling or laughing. He views the world in a constant state of learning and would love to apply his lessons into practice, but cannot get beyond his ruthless bullies and crippling self-doubt.

The outside reaction to Ben’s condition is horrifying and the film’s depiction of such events evokes strong emotions from its viewers. You will be heartbroken watching Ben as he helplessly submits himself to ritualistic, daily torture at the hands of his classmates. Ben X does an excellent job providing outside reactions through interviews for a film – you learn what it’s for at the end. We see the reactions of teachers, non-bullying students and his parents. The fear created by that which we do not understand is represented by the consistent blank stares Ben is given by his superiors. They have no idea how to handle such a gifted, yet troubled, individual so they throw him off to the next doctor or teacher.

Along with the cinematography and maybe some older-looking teenagers, the only other remotely negative point about the film is the soft ending. I only mention it because it plays out in such a differing manner from the rest of the film that it ends up slightly disappointing – again, a relative term. That being said, I still found the end intriguing and insightful for the overarching message about bullying. As the film states, “How many have to die?”

The most heartwarming aspect – and I say that with a grain of salt considering the intensity of the film – is the progressing depiction of autism and Asperger’s in film. From Ben X to the wonderful Mary and Max, we are clearly beginning to better understand these ever-increasing conditions. Going one step further, if you are not able to catch Bully in theaters, I would strongly suggest viewing Ben X on Netflix as a sufficient alternative. It’s harrowing, intense, heartbreaking and subtly optimistic all at once.

  1. Hm, interesting sounding film. I had never heard of it before but I’m curious about it.

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