Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dad’s in Heaven with Nixon: Film Review

Dad’s in Heaven With Nixon is a touching film about a close, multigenerational family and their struggles with mental illness, alcoholism, and autism. In spite of all these difficulties, the family’s bond shines through the film. The real beauty of this documentary is the loving relationships it shows between Christopher, a gifted and successful artist with autism, his aging mother, and his brother and the film’s creator, Tom Murray. Christopher, born in 1960, suffered oxygen deprivation at birth and was later diagnosed with autism. Certainly, the 1960s and 1970s were not a time of great information about helping those with autism, and Christopher underwent a number of therapies. His mother talks about how she was uncertain of how these therapies were working, but that she did determine that loving her son would help him, and how she and all the siblings worked together to encourage his development. In seeing the now adult Christopher it’s apparent how successful she was in her efforts. Christopher Murray is a charming and capable adult, living on his own and successfully holding two jobs as well as succeeding as an artist. He seems to have continued with his loving relationship with both his mother and his older brother.
The alternate story woven through the film is of the Murray’s father and grandfather. Through old films and family pictures,  Tom Murray narrates the story of the men’s difficult lives, including chronic drinking, mood swings, financial difficulties and probable depression and bipolar disorder. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition with the story of autism in comparison. So often, parents despair of an autism diagnosis, and it’s refreshing to see a representation of a happy and successful adult on the spectrum, and how he contributes so positively to his family.

The film is presented regularly on Showtime. You can get more info, and view Chris Murray’s artwork on the film’s website.