Ben X brings autism and online gaming together in a deeply disturbing and profound story.
Ben (Greg Timmermans) is very different to his peers at school and is constantly bullied and harassed. He copes with the daily trauma of his existence by retreating into the online gaming world of Archlord (an actual online game). In the game, he can be anything he wants to be and has developed an online friendship with Scarlite who inspires him to heroic deeds. The real and online worlds begin to merge as he overlays the world of Archlord onto his home and school life, allowing his identification with his computer avatar to bolster his courage and deal with the constant pain of relationships in which he finds it impossible to relate to others.
Finally, life becomes so unbearable for Ben that he develops a plan to end his life. But Scarlite, his online female friend, meets him and they strike up a friendship that changes Ben's life in a way he never imagined.
Ben X is a stunning, powerful story inspired by true events. Timmermans is brilliant playing the troubled, autistic teen. The rest of the cast support his portrayal with excellent performances. The representation of the online gaming world of Archlord is very effective and, even if one is not familiar with online gaming, it is easy to follow and all the information we need is provided. The integration of the two worlds in Ben's experience is done very well and we get a profound sense of the importance of the virtual world in helping Ben cope with his real world — although for Ben, the distinction between the two becomes very blurred.
Ben X was Belgium's official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 80th Annual Academy Awards.
Ben X is, at times, very painful to watch as we enter into the experience of autism with Ben. But it is a deeply provocative story that should help us think about the pain that those who are different often suffer in our society. Ben X is available on DVD.