Wretches and Jabberers is a documentary film by award-winning director, Gerardine Wurzburg, whose other works include, Educating Peter and Autism is a World. Wretches and Jabberers is a 90-minute glimpse into the globe-trotting journey of Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette, two men who are determined challenge the public’s perception of people with autism and disabilities.
The premise of their journey is to examine and discuss public attitudes about autism and disabilities, and to challenge people to rethink their views. Along the way, they collect new allies for their cause and have life-transforming encounters with many people, including a young, talented painter who had been living a life of isolation. They also display an adventurous streak when they take a ride on a motorized tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka, discuss the meaning of life with a Buddhist monk, and relax in a traditional Finnish sauna.
Thresher and Bissonnette have had limited speech their whole lives, and have been largely nonverbal until the advent of augmentative communication devices. Thresher attended public schools, while Bissonnette was institutionalized well into his twenties. At one point, Bissonnette was diagnosed as mentally retarded, schizophrenic, clinically insane, and autistic. He is a highly creative person, and has been drawing prolifically since he was five. For Bissonnette, drawing and painting reach far beyond a personal hobby, and are a means of direct expression.
Both men have endured a life of social isolation, the burden of “being locked in a body that doesn’t work,” and being labeled as “retards” or “social outcasts.” They are especially sensitive to labeling, and are determined to let the world know of its detrimental effects. Bissonnette once observed that, “Fastening labels on people is like leasing cars with destinations determined beforehand.”
Thresher and Bissonnette have been disability advocates for 10 years. They share a special sensitivity to the plight of people with autism, and those with disabilities. The message they convey is not only about empowerment, but also to shed awareness on the idea that, as a human race, we all share a common goal—the desire to communicate.
I urge everyone to go and see this movie, whether or not your life is affected by autism or a disability. We may see ourselves as empathetic individuals who don’t label those with autism or judge someone with a disability. However, on a subconscious level, we might be carrying around some old, outworn ideas that were drilled into our heads by our parents, the schools we attended, the media, and society in general. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to see people with autism and other disabilities in a different light.
Wretches and Jabberers will be shown in sensory-friendly theatres during the month of April.