By Nils Skudra
This afternoon I had the opportunity to watch Here We Are, a recent Israeli film directed by Nir Bergman which focuses on the relationship between Uri, a young man on the autism spectrum, and his father Aharon, who is resistant to letting him live in a specialized group home. The film provides a compelling look at the challenges that parents of autistic children face in deciding whether to accept their adulthood and allow them to lead independent lives, and therefore I felt that it merited a film review.
Uri Rossman (played by Noam Imber) lives with his father Aharon (Shai Avivi), an unemployed graphic designer who shares an extremely close bond with his son but consistently intervenes whenever Uri is reluctant to do something he is not accustomed to. For example, when they are riding their bicycles home from the train station, Uri shows an aversion to walking on the pavement since he fears that he will step on snails, and consequently Aharon has to remind him that it is summer and that there are no snails during the summer. He then convinces Uri to follow his lead by walking one step at a time in front of him, which Uri reluctantly copies. In addition, Uri displays a tendency to ask whether he likes certain things and takes his father’s word for it, such as “Do I like Mom?” or “Do I like yellow shirts?” It is clear that Uri is on the lower-functioning end of the autism spectrum and therefore requires special intervention in helping him make up his mind.
Upon arriving home, Aharon meets with his ex-wife Tamara (Smadi Wolfman), who seeks to have Uri move into a specialized group home for young adults with autism since he has now reached adulthood. She tries to convince Uri of the benefits of living in this hostel, which would include being in the company of other boys his age and having the opportunity to meet girls on the spectrum, but Uri is accustomed to living with his father and dreads the prospect of not being able to feed his goldfish.
This is a point of significant tension between Aharon and Tamara since he feels that Uri needs more time to prepare for leaving home and that the hostel is for “people who have nobody else,” while she argues that it is the best place for her son and points out the challenges that he would face living on his own if something drastic were to befall Aharon. She leaves with a reminder that the social worker will be visiting them to conduct an evaluation of Uri.
Aharon, believing that he can take care of Uri, instructs his son to tell the social worker, “I want to stay with Dad,” which Uri repeats without question. When the social worker arrives, she witnesses some of Uri’s behaviors, including an obliviousness to the fact that she and his father are talking; his repetition of certain statements; and asking for Aharon’s input, prompting her to tell Uri, “You don’t have to ask your father everything.” In addition, Aharon’s current search for employment makes it clear that he is not in a stable financial position for supporting Uri. Although he emphatically pleads with her to allow his son to stay with him, citing Uri’s own statements, she maintains that she cannot alter the legal decision that has been made for Uri’s transition.
When Tamara comes to take Uri to the hostel for a visit, he immediately suffers a meltdown, whining and crying “I don’t want to go!” while pressing his hands to his head. This prompts his father’s intervention, promising Uri that he can have star pasta (his favorite dish) when he comes back, but the episode reinforces Aharon’s conviction that Uri cannot adjust to living apart from him. When he tries to take Uri to the hostel himself the next day for the appointed move-in, Uri has another meltdown which draws the attention of passerby on the station platform as he screams and throws one of his shoes away. This prompts Aharon to talk with Tamara on the phone about his reservations, but she angrily demands his compliance, blaming him for Uri’s lack of emotional connection with her and threatening to take the case to the highest levels of government. Determined to prevent the placement of his son in an environment that he believes would be unsuitable, Aharon decides to take Uri on a road trip across Israel.
Aharon and Uri subsequently travel to an ocean resort in defiance of Tamara’s wishes. While staying at the hotel, Uri begins to exhibit some signs of independence in spite of his father’s overprotective streak.
For example, when they are swimming in the hotel pool, Aharon observes that Uri is with a group of young adults, and he pulls Uri over to him so that they can swim together, but Uri shows a desire to follow the other young adults when they leave the pool. Although he ultimately complies with his father’s wishes, Uri’s evolving desire to do things on his own does not escape Aharon’s notice. On another occasion, Uri hears his favorite music by ABBA being performed at an outdoor concert, and he goes to take part in the dancing while his father is distracted. Aharon begins to panic when he cannot find his son, but upon discovering how much Uri is enjoying the concert, he slowly begins to realize that Uri has a capacity for independent thought in spite of his severe challenges.
Aharon plans to take Uri with him to the United States, which brings Aharon into conflict with his brother who insists that Aharon’s actions are selfish and detrimental to Uri’s interests. Citing Aharon’s decision to leave his career, he states, “Anytime something isn’t perfect for you, you run away!” As he encounters obstacles to his travel plans (in the form of his checking account being frozen by Tamara), Aharon begins to see the futility of trying to resist Uri’s placement in the group home, particularly since Uri does not have an understanding of money management; when he asks Uri to let him use their savings account for flight expenses, Uri asks, “What is a savings account?” Their journey reaches a traumatic climax when Aharon gets into a fight with a vendor who demands payment for a popsicle that Uri has taken, resulting in his arrest while Uri is left stranded at the beach. Following this episode, Tamara places him in the group home, where Uri has a difficult time adjusting.
After Aharon is released from jail, he and Tamara learn that Uri has engaged in disorderly conduct at the group home by throwing a rock through a glass window. Aharon deduces that Uri was copying the behavior of a character in his favorite Charlie Chaplin film, The Kid, which he would routinely watch on his iPod while living with Aharon.
When Uri is brought in, he reveals that he broke the window in the hope that his father would come and take him home. This triggers an argument between Aharon and Tamara as they are driving: She blames Aharon, insisting that Uri would have had an easy adjustment if Aharon had not taken him away on a two-week trip, while Aharon sees the incident as proof that Uri is not ready to live in a group home. However, when he comes to visit Uri several weeks later, he sees that his son is now enjoying the workshops that residents are offered and that he has developed an interest in eating regular pasta, instead of the star-shaped pasta that Aharon would cook for him, and he tells Uri, “Maybe you’ll come and visit sometime,” at which point they embrace and then part.
Avivi and Imber deliver superb and highly sensitive performances as father and son, conveying a very compelling portrayal of the challenges that parents of autistic children face in allowing them to lead independent or semi-independent lives. Aharon’s reservations about letting Uri live in a specialized group home are relatable since many parents and less challenged autistic individuals might see these facilities as the equivalent of institutions that primarily serve people on the lower-functioning end of the spectrum, rather than an opportunity for independent living.
Admittedly I myself share this feeling; when I was first diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age 10, doctors said that I might have to be institutionalized, and while I have proven them wrong through my academic and professional success, I would very much prefer independent housing to a group home since the latter would seem equivalent to living in an institution, from my vantage point.
However, for some autistic individuals like Uri, these homes provide opportunities for creative activity and a semi-independent lifestyle that fits their sense of routine and structure, and it is this realization that gives Aharon the strength to let his son go. The film thus articulates a powerful message for both parents and young autistic adults, and it is a film that I would highly recommend since they may find it very relatable and instructive.
I am an artist on the autism spectrum. I received an MA specializing in Civil War/Reconstruction history at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and I have been drawing hundreds of Civil War-themed pictures since the age of five and a half. I’m now working on a secondary Master’s in Library Science. As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, I have a very focused set of interests, and the Civil War is my favorite historical event within that range of interests. It is therefore my fervent desire to become a Civil War historian and have my Civil War artwork published in an art book for children. I am also very involved in the autism community and currently serve as the President/Head Officer of Spectrum at UNCG, an organization I founded for students on the autism spectrum. The goal of the organization is to promote autism awareness and foster an inclusive community for autistic students on the UNCG campus. The group has attracted some local publicity and is steadily gaining new members, and we shall be hosting autism panels for classes on campus in the near future.