Movie Review of The Accountant from an autistic perspective

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the movie you may not want to read this review.

By Tom Iland

If you have not yet seen the Ben Affleck movie, The Accountant, I suggest you see it or research it in order to better understand the context and the lessons being conveyed in this blog.

As a certified public accountant (CPA) with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I knew when I first saw the trailer for The Accountant that I had to go see it. I am glad I did, for I could relate to not only some of the talents of Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), but also a lot of the personal and professional struggles he had.

I spent six years in college pursuing an accounting degree and one more year studying for and taking the CPA Examination, one of the most difficult exams there is. I worked for seven years in accounting, tax and other financial positions, which helped me relate to Christian’s professional journey and his talent for numbers. However, I never had Christian’s extreme experiences of working for criminals and mob bosses and having to protect himself with guns and other weapons!

I really appreciate the way the film shows that autism played a large part in Christian’s personal life and occupation, as it has in mine! From a young age, Christian felt when he started something that he HAD to finish it and if he wouldn’t or couldn’t, he would have a meltdown. I, too, was into puzzles and would get annoyed if a piece was missing. The same applied to doing work for a client. Christian had his accounting system in place and when it was disrupted, he would become upset. I had my own frustrations working as a temporary employee or “temp” after I got my CPA license, whether it was about the accounting work itself or the expectations in the office setting.

Those that know autism and the social awkwardness associated with it will really appreciate certain scenes in this movie…especially those where Christian interacts with women. Whether it is Christian receiving the missing piece to a puzzle from a young girl to responding apathetically when a client asked him if he liked her necklace to self-disclosing that he has a high-functioning form of autism to his female accounting colleague, the difficulties are clear. Some women in Christian’s life saw his charitable spirit and knew he would die to protect them. I aspire to this high standard of personal goodness!

While Christian and I had our similarities with respect to the effects of autism, we also had significant differences. Unlike my parents, Christian’s parents divorced when he was very young. Christian was raised by his military father and they often moved to different places around the world. Christian had his limits pushed to the brink through combat training. He later went into the army and specialized in forensic accounting, the type of accounting associated with investigating financial information in connection with legal proceedings.

Christian went to prison for his crimes. It was in prison that he learned about how the criminal underworld worked and how their organizations were financed. Combined with his talents for numbers (including, but not limited to, doing complex multiplication in his head just like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man), Christian became the person that criminal organizations wanted to hire to do their accounting.

Thankfully, I did not have a military family nor did I move often nor get trained to fight and kill. Who knows what I may have become then? I follow the law and never expect to go to jail. I am grateful for gaining determination and discipline from studying for and taking the CPA Exam. These characteristics will help me in so many more endeavors throughout my life.

I will close with a message to employers. Statistically speaking, about 90% of young adults with autism are either unemployed or underemployed in the USA. This is a higher percentage than any other class of disability. I encourage you to be part of the solution of this problem. Invest time, money and resources in hiring and understanding people with autism. Rather than seeing the person as a PR, HR or legal nightmare, see the potential. This person might be the one that improves systems currently in place, betters workplace rapport or strengthens customer loyalty. The possibilities are endless! Speaking from personal experience, when someone took the time to really listen to my situation and offer a helping hand, I was happier at work which resulted in me working harder and doing a better job. Imagine what positive things you can unleash by being there for someone with autism in the workplace!

People with autism are willing and able to work. Will you be the one that puts them to work?

Tom Iland

Tom is a licensed CPA in California who after many years in the field realized that accounting was not the right occupation for him. “I decided to walk away from my full-time job, with excellent pay and benefits, to dedicate myself to helping others affected by ASD. I am very pleased to say that I made the right decision because my new career as a writer, speaker, consultant and trainer makes me happier and helps me help others. Please contact me for more information.” Tom Iland is a board member of The Art of Autism nonprofit.

This article was originally published on Tom’s blog.

Other blogs by Tom Iland:

5 Key Steps to Becoming a Man
Come to Life by Joining Clubs
What would you choose – Big Money or Big Dreams?

7 replies on “Movie Review of The Accountant from an autistic perspective”
  1. says: Rodney

    Great post!
    I’m a father of a child with autism, and I was thinking whether the movie would do believe to the people that autism person could be a good killer because they are “without feeling persons”, and I’m worried about it.
    In the other hand, I love the scenes when Chris interacts with women too, remembers me when my son says something that no one understand why he said that in that moment: “I’m joking”.
    Thanks for your words.

  2. says: Alice

    Thank you Tom. I am a bit fed up with everyone complaining about autistic representations when most of those people don’t have even have an autism diagnosis. I know the Rain Man idea that we’re all socially rigid savants is overdone but I do think that ability to focus gives us an edge if we’re relatively intelligent. I have 2 degrees and a doctorate for example. I’m not that clever – just focussed! And no, I don’t have a job 🙁
    This narrow portrayal is apparent here, in The Good Doctor, in the autistic-like Sheldon Cooper etc and at it’s worst in Motzart and the Whale where pretty much everyone is a savant. My personal favourite is the first season of The Bridge (Bron – the original not the remake) where Saga experiences so many of the difficulties I had at work that I made a list for if I ever got another job :-/ I am a female and I really liked the fact that Saga always wears the same comfy clothes (as I do) and doesn’t bother with make up or “femininity”. I think this is the main reason I’m single as well as jobless!

    1. says: admin

      Hi Alice, if you would like to write a review of The Bridge for the Art of Autism we do pay autistic bloggers for reviews. – Debra

  3. says: Francine

    Hi Debra,
    If Alice isn’t interested in doing a review of ‘The Bridge’, I would Love to…paid or unpaid.

  4. says: Francine

    Thanks Tom for your review and advocacy.
    I Love this movie and how it shows that he has never truly changed from the deeply sensitive/feeling boy portrayed in the flashback scenes.
    Through extreme conditioning as a special interest he has attained a deep serenity to offset the sheer volume/magnitude of information/emotion he still experiences.
    The scenes with those he cares for are touching, whether it be his mentor in prison or a middle aged couple who are clueless about possible tax deductions.
    He wants to help, he wants to participate in society and he does through his vigilantism /sharing key information with the FBI.
    He has a big heart and his intervention with Dana is even more deeply personal , bringing her safety just as he has brought a feeling of safety to his own life.. I enjoyed the intensity of satisfaction/contentedness in his eyes and flicker of a half smile as he reflects on this while moving on to another place.

  5. says: Gogo

    Great review Mr. Iland!
    I’m a student in Occupational Therapy and I’ve worked with autistic children and autistic adults in the past. Watching this movie brought me alot of satisfaction because of the fact that it portrayed the main character as an accomplished and unique individual before portraying him thru his condition only, we see him as a person with his many flaws, his many qualities and mosy importantly his emotions. What a good example of how the world should approach ASD! I also think the representations of autism in this movie are humble and unexagerrated, which adds to the concept of “the person is not his condition” and makes it much more enjoyable to watch. Let there be many more movie such as this one and may it change the world’s perspective on ASD.

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