X+Y Review

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X+Y Film X+Y Film

This movie is something else.


First thing's first: please do not mistake 'X+Y' for the new America Ferrera movie 'X/Y' as you will be severely confused. My friend spent the first half hour of 'X+Y' trying to reconcile the trailer she'd watched with what was happening onscreen. Second (but just as important), please do not mistake 'X+Y' for what it looks like in the actual trailer for 'X+Y' because it really isn't that either!

From the trailer you might expect a typical, coming-of-age film with all the ups and downs you've been through in all the movies you've seen that follow the same tired formula. But 'X+Y' works to its own unique algorithm. Maybe just skip the trailer all together and instead prepare yourself for a delicate yet anarchic ride through the intricately constructed world of a gifted, autistic teenager.

XandYNathan may live on the same planet as you and I, but he experiences it fundamentally differently. His synaesthesia means he can be overwhelmed by a barrage of different sensations from one simple stimulus; his autism closes him off from emotional expression making him seem at times alarmingly cold and cruel. He is complex, difficult to understand and, to be honest, if you hadn't just paid to watch a movie about him, you probably wouldn't put much effort into getting to know him. But, as it turns out, you would be making a terrible mistake.

The story unfolds naturally, letting you dislike Nathan as much as you want. His behaviour is never overtly explained. There are no monologues from parents or doctors. Rather, you are slowly allowed into his world and you start to see glimmers of things that make you want to know him more.

At times, the camera rolls and lilts, colours and textures flow and change before you can properly grasp them, sounds waver and grow in intensity, all these elements and more weave around each other to create just the tiniest reflection of what the world might be like with synaesthesia. As Nathan's relationships develop you connect with him, both through the story and these sensual cues, and start to see and feel the emotions that lie beneath his cool exterior. 

I don't want to say too much about the storyline as I think it's better to watch a film fresh but I will give you the basics: you will be carried along on Nathan's journey to the International Mathematical Olympiad (the IMO – a real competition) and will feel every strange sensation he goes through as his closed off world is burst open and infiltrated by people he never would have let in by choice.


Where this film really shines is in the details. I was stunned and delighted to find the continuity in 'X+Y' was nearly flawless. Not only was it almost entirely free of mistakes, it was replete with subtleties that never seem to occur to other film-makers. We see Nathan at two different stages of life, played by two different actors; however, the director was so rigorous as to ensure the moles on each boy's face precisely matched. The one you’ll notice first is a small mole on Nathan’s lower lip. Such precision makes me smile as it echoes the kind of absolute perfection and attention to detail Nathan often demands within the film.

As you might have noticed, I said the film was “nearly flawless” in its attention to detail. There was an odd moment where one of the IMO teams was chanting “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!” while wearing black shirts with Kiwis on them. My friend and I turned to each other and frowned as a tiny chorus of “what?!” echoed around the theatre.

This tiny slip up (which was actually kind of cool because it’s only us Aussies and Kiwis who’ll notice it), did nothing to detract from the quiet luminosity of the film. Where so many movies about teenagers and love focus only on the romantic kind, 'X+Y' is limitless, exploring every kind of love imaginable; and what turns out to be most important in the end will leave you smiling and crying and feeling too many emotions all at once. 

'X+Y' is in cinemas 9 April.

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