In many writings, I have gone on about actors, films, or bits of music that represent the autistic, especially autistic adults, than efforts that are deliberately promoted as such. Part of this, I will admit, has to do with resentment. Josh Hartnett was once quoted as claiming that the reason his then-recent film Mozart And The Whale was met with such complete indifference at the box orifice was because someone out there did not want “the cause” getting out in the open. Given that the film is basically a lot of exaggeration of one type and promotion of the idea that the autistic remain children forever, Hartnett has, much like Anthony Kiedis or Julia Roberts before him, become one of a list of public figures I will get on a Queensland bus in order to avoid hearing from.
I have also been openly accused in other places, with some justification I admit, of talking up accidental portrayals of the autistic that meet only a certain criteria. That is, portrayals that coincide with a very aggressive extreme of the Powell subtype. There is both truth and contradiction to this. The truth part is easily explained by the fact that the subtype in question, the aggressive Powell type, bears a strong resemblance to the type that I am. Nobody can help what they are, and nobody can help filtering their view of the world or its truth through what they are.
But one actor whom I have not mentioned much in context of this phenonemon is Lance Henriksen. Henriksen has been in slightly more than 180 films either as an actor or voice actor. Whilst his appearance and manner are very identifiable to audiences in a sort of “wow, that’s Lance Henriksen“ manner, the diversity of the roles he has played throughout those films is actually remarkable. And unlike many actors of whom this statement can rightly be made, Henriksen has also portrayed a number of different types on the spectrum, if only by accident. Also remarkable is the context in which he portrays the different characters, if only because it reveals a willingness to take on a kind of role that many actors would run screaming for their mothers from. And I am not just saying it that way because it is Mother’s Day here and my mother is more than a thousand kilometres from my present position. Anyway, the earliest role I can recall seeing Lance Henriksen in is as one Sergeant Neff in Damien: Omen II. Omen II was a terrible piece of shit, taking all of the preposterous ideas from the original and ramping them up without balancing them with any elements that might bring them within pissing distance of reality. Henriken‘s performance, however, hints at the one thing that could have saved the film from its own ridiculousness. Had the film followed the idea of Damien coming to terms with the fact that he is the Antichrist, and what motivates him to embrace the fact, we might have had a winner. In the very limited time that Henriksen is on-screen during that film, he gives a very subtle hint of that.
One of my favourite films with Lance Henriksen in it is Hard Target, the John Woo actioner in which Jean-Claude Van Damme proves that he cannot act for times five thousand through about fifty million. One other thing that Hard Target proves is that your protagonist in any action, science fiction, or war film can only be as good as your antagonist. The main antagonist in Hard Target is one Emil Fouchon, and portrayed by Lance Henriksen. Although nothing is told about Fouchon‘s history as a person, Henriksen and the script together throw in enough hints about him for an audience to piece the basics together. Fouchon‘s way of making money is to arrange for rich, bored men to “hunt” other Human beings. The way it works is to take bums from the street, people he calculates will not be missed that much, offer them a large wad of cash as a prize if they can make it to a certain point within the city, then sit back and watch as the paying customer stops them. The only reason, and I do mean only reason, that Hard Target even comes close to working is Lance Henriksen. The scenario, although plausible if twisted and set up in the right ways, is twisted and set up in entirely the wrong ways, and the acting from everyone save Henriksen is appalling. Even Van Damme is worse than his usual self, which is quite an accomplishment. But the relevant point here is that Henriksen does an excellent job of selling himself as a mercenary or a veteran who has decided that making money selling others the opportunity to hunt and kill other Human beings is a good trade. And I shit you not when I say that I have met and spoken with autistic adults who have served in the armed forces (hell, for all I know, the grandfather I never got to meet might fit this description).
(You might also wonder who that guy on the right in the image I just showed is. Arnold Vosloo (apparently pronounced “fos-loo”) also does an awesome job of convincing the audience that he is a Powell type who went off to war at some point and came back broken. Change the accent from mile-thick Pretorian to subtle Parramatta-Scottish, and he may as well be portraying me.)
One of the greatest challenges for any actor is to portray a character with abilities far in excess of those that the norm brigade regard as the limits of Humanity. No wait, let me say that properly. One of the greatest challenges for any actor is to portray a character with abilities far in excess of what we might think of as the limits of Humanity, and portray them as whole, three-dimensional people. There are actors who have done it poorly, those who have done it well enough to be acquitted, and those who have excelled at it. Lance Henriksen has bitten off the hardest of all challenges in that respect. His character in Millenium had only one real difference from the expected norm that was detailed to any degree in the series. Specifically, he could work into the scene of a murder or whatever crime and see what the perpetrator saw at a given point in the act. Many superheroes of recent years are called upon to act out how their powers are as much a curse as they are a blessing. But unless your name is Anna Paquin, you simply cannot claim you have nailed it to anywhere near the extent that Lance Henriksen did on this series. Pity about the show that was built around it (especially after the first series), but there you go.
In 1986, Henriksen achieved a minor fame portraying Bishop, an “artificial person” (the character’s terminology) in Aliens. Aliens is an interesting take on the world created by Ridley Scott and his creative team in Alien, a film in which a small crew from a commercial towing spaceship comes across a rather nasty alien life form that proceeds to disappear them all one by one until only one is left. In Aliens, the creative team now led by James Cameron twists the framing of the story a little and makes it more resembling of the Heinlein classic StarShip Troopers. Bishop is in the team primarily as a science officer. His pauses, mannerisms, and eccentric body language bear such a strong resemblance to an Einstein, Numan (or both) type that it knocks people’s socks right off to know that the resemblance was unintentional. One scene in which one of the marines is bringing Bishop supplies for the scientific portion of his endeavours hammers home the whole design of the character. Bishop is designed to analyse things and procure information.
Bishop also had the distinction of being one of the few characters in Aliens who survived (in the loosest possible sense) enough to appear in Alien 3, or the studio clusterfukk of hilarious proportions as the original version has been called by some. In Alien 3, Lance Henriksen appears as two characters. One, as the Bishop from Aliens that is now basically a pile of scraps. In the scene that this Bishop appears in, he states one thing that will have the politically correct scratching their heads and moaning for centuries to come. His preference for being nothing as opposed to never being “top of the line” again gives viewers a window into how many Powell aspies feel about places like the nowhere shitsville I was absconded to in 2003 and still have never fully recovered from. You see, one thing that high-IQ, arts-oriented autistic individuals of all ages and all types crave more than anything else is intellectual stimulation. Even when they are playing passive videogames like Moonstone, they are imagining details to the stories that they are playing out that are never touched upon in the games themselves. In fact, some, like my good self, will play story-heavy games like Heimdall and imagine all sorts of motivations or back-stories for the most insignificant characters. In this one moment of Alien 3, both Lance Henriksen and whomever wrote this dialogue capture what many of this type would feel when told they will never receive such neurological stimuli again. Put me down, please. You have made me the equivalent of a dog with four severed legs.
Lance Henriksen has even played a backdrop a specific type of autistic adult that I do not like to talk about much. You have heard me snarl and yell about what I like to call the Steve Urkel stereotype. Well, getting Michael Wincott to resemble Jaleel White‘s trademark character might be a bit of a stretch, but his character in Dead Man does capture one of the few points where it converges with the autistic, and does so brilliantly. As one of the characters in his party puts it, Henriken‘s character almost never speaks, but Wincott‘s character does the talking for both of them, and then some. Together, Wincott and Henriksen play two sides of a coin that I suspect many Powell types really are. Children in general are rarely silent, and when one’s sense of language is different to those around them, a child will often experiment with language in order to suss out the proper meanings and uses of words. But if this child is abused for what seems natural and logical to them, often it will warp their sense of communication. Wincott‘s character communicates like the child, and Henriksen‘s like the adult. One throws words out seemingly at random just to see what will happen. The other seems to just expect to have to shoot in order to be understood.
So in conclusion, to people like Josh Hartnett, if you want to understand why you receive no love and respect for the time you yelled out “look at me, I am playing autistic”, take a good look at Lance Henriksen.