“Perfectly Normal” tells the story of Jordan Kamnitzer. Jordan is a middle-aged man with Asperger Syndrome who lives in Los Angeles, where he has found stability through his long-term job and his solid relationship with Toni who herself has multiple disabilities. Whereas Jordan often gets pulled into his own absent and chaotic world, he has learned to make deliberate choices to stay grounded in reality. A strong self-advocate, Jordan proves that he is not a disabled person, but merely a person with a disability. Someone who “normal people” could actually learn from. Besides, he will argue, “everybody is not completely normal” anyway.
Autism and Asperger’s syndrome, which is often considered a high-functioning form of autism, can manifest through a wide spectrum of symptoms; the severity and range of consequences vary depending on the individual. Sometimes these symptoms are barely noticeable, but on the other hand, around 40 percent of autistic children do not speak. (Symptoms often lessen by adulthood.)
This intimate look into the world of someone on the Autism spectrum, makes a broad appeal to everyone to accept autism as a “variation” on normalcy, rather than a disorder. “Disabilities are secondary, we are people first”, is what Jordan tells us. Jordan proves that one can look up to someone who does not meet the general idea of the fully functioning person. Despite his inhibited social skills, he makes meaningful connections. While Jordan seems disadvantaged in life, childlike at times, he has mastered the rules of surviving adulthood, perhaps more skillfully so than some people who were born without challenges.
The New York Times wrote a touching article on this film: “In Jordan’s case, he lives independently, holds a job, and manages his own personal finances. He has a relationship with a woman named Toni who has multiple disabilities herself. But more importantly, he is self-aware, self-accepting, caring, with a strong ability to analyze and speak about his condition with others. He understands how he is different, and he has created a coping mechanism for himself that enables him to function in society and pursue his interests in the arts as an escape when it all becomes too much for him.” The director, Debeij, adds: “It is these qualities that I wanted to emphasize in this film. I wanted Jordan himself to tell us his story instead of it being formulated out of impressions from the perspective of an outsider. Someone from whom those he calls “normal people” could learn. Besides, he will argue, “everybody is not completely normal” anyway.
The full film is available on Op-Doc.