Thursday, November 23, 2006

Memorable fictional characters portraying autistic traits or themes

If you want to understand people who are on the autistic spectrum, you may find that there is a lot to be learnt from enjoying fictional autistic characters, especially those that were created by very talented authors, movie directors, screenwriters or actors who may also be on the autism spectrum.
Warning – The plot details of some movies and books follow; reading further may ruin your enjoyment of films and novels that you have not already seen.

Mr Spock
From the Star Trek television series and movies
Actor – Leonard Nimoy
Mr Spock is half human and half Vulcan. He works amongst humans but does not fit in socially as he follows the cultural values of Vulcans. In Vulcan society the emotions are very much repressed in favour of logic. Vulcans are very intelligent and they are supposed to age at a slower rate than humans. It has often been observed that some adult autistics have a physical appearance that is younger than their chronological age. In the TV show episode "Spock's Brain" Spock's brain is surgically removed and stolen by aliens, but the crew of the Enterprise track down and surgically replace Spock's brain. As soon as the brain is restored to normal functioning within Spock's body, Spock launches into a typically aspergian scholarly monologue. Kirk and Doctor McCoy (two conspiculuosly NT characters), then look somewhat bored, irritated and amused, and their eyes meet. Dr McCoy says jokingly "I should never have reconnected his mouth" and Kirk replies "Well, we took the risk doctor."

Memorable quotes –
“I find your arguments strewn with gaping defects in logic.”

“That is quite logical captain.”

“I am not capable of that emotion.”


Elwood Blues and “The Fat Penguin” Sister Mary Stigmata From the movies The Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000
Actors – Dan Aykroyd* (also co-wrote screenplay) and Kathleen Freeman
Elwood is an unpretentious character with deadpan, unemotional body language and voice. He has a detailed knowledge of law enforcement and he copies officers by driving an ex-cop car, wearing FBI-type attire and maintaining a policeman-like demeanour. Technical details are important to Elwood, and he has unusual and specific food preferences. I think “The Fat Penguin” in these movies has an uncompromising and serious type of aspie personality. She likes to be the one controlling the situation when dealing with others, she has unrealistically high moral standards, not much of a sex life, has difficulty controlling her temper, and does not
appear to smile much.
The actor and co-screenwriter Dan Aykroyd* claimed in a 2004 NPR radio interview that he had been diagnosed as autistic as a child.

Memorable quotes from Elwood–
“They're not carpet tacks. They're dry wall nails.”

"I'll have some toasted white bread please.
(You want butter or jam on that, honey?)
No ma'am, dry.”

From the later sequel movie:
“Listen Willie. You gotta understand these guys are orphan remnants of the post Perestroika Soviet secret police apparatus which until 1991 carried out its twisted interpretation of the original well intentioned Marxist-Leninist doctrine vis-a-vis state security which was massively corrupted by Lavrenta Beria in the thirties. Of course, once a mass populace ....” [Everyone listening to Elwood’s classically aspergian monologue of detailed obscure knowledge has a look on their face like they think Elwood is a bit strange].
Blues Brothers: the Official Trailer. YouTube

Tommy Walker From the 1970’s rock musical and movie Tommy
Actor – Roger Daltrey
This character is thought to have been based upon the discredited psychoanalytic theory of autism popularised by Bruno Bettelheim, which was circulating around the time when this musical was created. Nevertheless, this film can still be viewed as a confronting satire of the way profoundly autistic people are treated by society. Tommy has sensory and speech disabilities and has a savant talent (pinball playing), is labelled as crazy by his parent’s superficial friends, is subjected to a number of bizarre, insensitive and ineffective therapies, is exposed to sexual abuse, his special talents are exploited by his parents for financial gain in a kind of freak show and Tommy is also tortured for amusement by a bully. When Tommy develops the ability to speak this is hailed as a miracle cure and Tommy becomes a celebrity all over again, even though he is a bit of a moralistic bore. Many different typical situations in the lives of people with Kanner-type autism are covered in this movie.

Elliot Goblet An Australian stand-up comedy character. The same actor played a very similar unnamed character, a council health inspector, in the Australian comedy movie Fat Pizza.
Actor – Jack Levi
The Elliot Goblet character that was most famous in the 1980s had an almost complete lack of body language and no expression in his voice, often wildly conflicting with his statements about his own emotional state. Goblet also displays a lack of awareness of fashion, divergent thinking and minor eccentricities.

Memorable quote from Elliot –
“I’m internally berserk”

Memorable quote from the heath inspector –
“Look I couldn’t give a rat’s earlobe about your mother.”
Australian censorship rating of movie – MA 15+

Daria Morgendorffer
From the animated US television series Daria Voice - Tracy Grandstaff
Daria is an intellectually gifted teenage misanthrope with a monotone voice, non-existent body language and unusual interests. Sport, fashion and popularity are of little interest to Daria. Her more popular normal (neurotypical) sister Quinn is ashamed to be related to Daria, evident from the episode in which Quinn pretended in the presence of her friends that Daria was not her sister.
Memorable quotes –
“How come, even in my fantasies everyone’s a jerk?”

“The world is my oyster... but I can't seem to get it open.”

“Life goes faster when you're somewhere else”

Daria - Favorite Quotes [HQ]. YouTube.

Lili von Shtupp
From the classic Mel Brooks comedy movie Blazing Saddles Actor – Madeline Kahn
This character is a comedic tribute to the legendary, courageous and opinionated entertainer Marlene Dietrich. This role earned Kahn an Academy Award nomination. Lili is frank, blunt and she has no time for other people's bulldust. Like many aspies Lili does not welcome casual kisses. One cowboy who tries to kiss Lili ends up with a knee in the groin, and when Hedley Lamarr tries to kiss Lili, she turns her back on him at just the right moment for him to crack his teeth on the back of her skull. Either Lili did that deliberately, or she does not read the body language of others with much ability or interest. On stage and off Lili shows no enthusiasm whatsoever for playing the role of the entertaining and endearing female stereotype, which makes one wonder how and why she ever got into show business. She has a very flat, monotone voice and a very aloof and cold manner, but we all know she really has a heart of gold.
Memorable scenes from movie –
Lili (on stage) "Hello, cowboy. What's your name?"
Cowboy "Tex, Ma'am."
Lili "Texmam? Well, tell me Texmam, are you in show business?" Cowboy "Well no ma'am."
Lili "Then why don't you get your fwiggin' feet off o' the stage.”
[Lili kicks his feet off the stage forcefully and the audience roars with laughter]
Hedley Lamarr "For you, my dear."
[Hedley gives Lili a bunch of rather unexceptional-looking flowers]
Lili "Oh, how owdinawy" [Lili glances at the bunch and tosses it to the floor tactlessly]

Blazing Saddles - Lilly Von Schtupp. YouTube.

Sherlock Holmes
From writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle* and various movies
Actors – Basil Rathbone and others
Professor Michael Fitzgerald on Sherlock Holmes: “Interestingly, Sherlock Holmes – a fictional character – shows the characteristics of a person with Asperger’s syndrome. One interpretation of the stories is that Holmes represents Conan Doyle and Dr Watson represents a non-autistic person.” (Fitzgerald 2005). Professor Fitzgerald has identified Conan Doyle* as an autistic person. Another professor has also identified Holmes as an autistic fictional character created by an author who was probably also autistic, economist Professor Tyler Cowen in his 2009 book Create your own economy. Sherlock Holmes has a savant-like brother named Mycroft who co-founded a gentleman’s club named the Diogenes Club, for shy and misanthropic gentlemen. Talking is banned in this (fictional) club. In real life Doyle was a member of the Athenaeum Club which included among its members three other famous people who have been identified as possible cases of Asperger syndrome. The evil Professor Moriarty character has also been identified as arguably autistic (Cowen 2009 p. 153). Autistic people are particularly talented at observing and analysing the world at a detailed level, and some are thought to excel at reasoning in a logical manner. These are talents displayed by Holmes.

Memorable quote –
“You know my method, Watson. It is founded upon the observation of trifles.”

Theo the "policy wonk"
From the Australian "chick lit" novel Campaign Ruby by Jessica Rudd

The author of this debut novel is the daughter of Australia’s Foreign Minister and deposed former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Kevin Rudd has described himself as a nerd and has also described himself as a "first class policy wonk". Rudd has been the subject of mostly good-natured joking about his personality and body language, including comparisons with a robot (Crabb 2007, 2010), with the nickname "Ruddbot"dating back to 2006 (Tilley 2007). Rudd has been criticised as a PM for having an unpleasant and autocratic leadership style and getting bogged down in details. The setting of this novel is an Australian federal political campaign and the main character is a young career-oriented lady who accepts a position as a political staffer during this campaign. Jessica Rudd worked closely with her father during the very successful 2007 election campaign in which Rudd became the PM. This book attracted much attention before it was published, shortly after the political coup that removed Rudd as PM, because in parts it mirrors real life political events in an uncanny way.
Theo is the stereotypical borderline-autistic male nerd who wears glasses that have coke bottle lenses. Theo is brilliant and benign, but oddly unable to avoid saying tactless things. He is described in the book as being very deficient in social and emotional intelligence. Theo writes party policies off the top of his head, alone, on demand. In one scene, during a tense time, Theo paces back and forth while talking to himself, acting autistic in two different ways at once. Could K. Rudd have been an inspiration for this character, or maybe Wayne Swan?

Some characters from movies produced by Val Lewton
I have written about the autistic characteristics of Lewton here:
There is also evidence that Lewton experienced ordinal linguistic personification synaesthesia, and was eccentric from childhood.

Irena Dubrovna and the other cat people from the 1942 movie The Cat People
Actor - Simone Simon Producer - Val Lewton
These people have an inherited, mysterious curse which causes those affected to become out of control (transform into black panthers and kill) when emotionally aroused. This group is like some exotic, feared, reviled and hunted secret society, a secrect society that is so secret that some of its members don't even know for sure if they are members. The main character fears that she is one of these people, and she falls into the control of psychiatry.
Cat People - my sister. YouTube.

Amy the little girl from the 1944 movie The Curse of the Cat People, sequel to The Cat People
Actor - Ann Carter Producer - Val Lewton
The daydreamy Amy is a concern to her parents because she has no friends of her own age, instead she chooses to spend her time in the company of an imaginary friend, Irena, the dead cat-woman character from the previous movie. Amy has a special empathy for strange people; she also befriends two seriously troubled women in the neighbourhood, an elderly sufferer of Capgras delusion, possibly caused by dementia, and her resentful carer daughter. American Freudian child psychologists of the generation that gave us atrocities such as the "refrigerator mother" theory of autism/schizophrenia worked themselves up into a lather over this movie, but that doesn't detract from the quality of this film.

Finn the mute from the 1943 movie The Ghost Ship
Actor - Skelton Knaggs (a homely-looking character actor with a history of playing intellectually disabled characters) Producer - Val Lewton
He cannot speak, but he is surely no dummy.
Memorable quote - “This is another man I can never know because I can never talk with him, for I am a mute and cannot speak. I am cut off from other men, but in my own silence I can hear things they cannot hear, know things they can never know.”

James Rourke From the 1995 science fiction novel Distress by Australian "hard science fiction" author Greg Egan* This book is set in the future. James Rourke is a minor character depicted toward the beginning of the novel. Rourke is the Media Liaison Officer for the Voluntary Autists Association, a lobby group campaigning for the legalization of surgical enlargement of the brain lesion underlying autism (fictional science) or the complete excision of the affected brain area, in a time when a medical patch-up "cure" of autism is possible for some who are partially autistic. Rourke’s arguments about the advantages and disadvantages of neurotypical and autistic psychology are interestingly similar to some pro-neurodiversity arguments and anti-neurotypical satire written by real life anti-cure autistic activists.

In the movie Blade Runner there is the unanswered question of whether the main character, Deckard, is unknowlingly a replicant, and in this story could the main character, Andrew Worth, unknowingly be an autist? The main character of Distress, Andrew Worth, has also been identified as having an autistic personality and this novel has been cited as one of the first to feature such a personality as a central element (Hassler & Wilcox 2008 p.18), many years before the publication of the best-seller novel The curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon.

The author Greg Egan* is known for his reclusiveness. He does not attend science fiction conventions nor sign books. At his web site he has explained that "There are no photos of me on the web." Egan was identifed and a possible case of Asperger syndrome in an article published in 2006 in the sci fi magazine Locus Online.

In the world depicted on the last page of the book the old deluded (neurotypical) way of thinking about human relationships has been mostly replaced by rational (autistic) wisdom, through biological change and cultural revolution. Now that’s what I call a happy ending!

Memorable quotes –
“But how much is understanding – and how much is a delusion of understanding? Is intimacy a form of knowledge – or is it just a comforting false belief?”

"What's the most patronizing thing that you can offer to do for people you disagree with, or don't understand?"

"What's the most intellectually lazy way you can think of, to try to win an argument?"

Bobo Gigliotti and his Mama From the Australian comedy television series Pizza the movie Fat Pizza and other movies based on the series
Actors – Johnny Boxer and Maria Venuti
These characters are very negative but very funny adult autistic stereotypes. Bobo, a misanthropic pizza shop proprietor of Italian descent, is a very poor communicator, he lacks imagination, his social and private lives are disastrous, and he has serious anger-management issues. Bobo’s body language is stiff and limited, and his voice is very strange. Bobo’s employees believe he is “crazy” and a “tight-arse” (tight with money). Some autists are very reluctant to share or spend their money, and it is a common thing for autistics to be mistakenly regarded as mentally ill. Bobo appears to lack empathy for everyone except his naïve young wife and his mother. Bobo’s Asian wife was a mail-order bride found through the (fictional) website Bobo’s divorced mother clearly has a personality very similar to Bobo’s. Bobo and Mama both act in a cold and hostile manner towards others, but the bond between them is very strong, probably because they are so much alike and so different to everyone else.

Memorable quote from Bobo –
“SHUT UP!” Memorable quote from Mama –
“Grande puttana!” Australian censorship rating of movie – MA 15+

Amélie Poulain, her boyfriend Nino Quincampoix and some other characters in the movie From the French movie Amelie (this movie is known by a number of different titles)
Actors – Audrey Tautou and Mathieu Kassovitz
Two genuine eccentrics who were just made for each other, in a very eccentric and popular movie. Nino has had three strange and original detail-oriented and obsessive collecting hobbies, and one of them is central to the plot of this movie.
Australian censorship rating of movie – M 15+

Garth Algar, and his girlfriend Betty Jo in the sequel movie From the movies Wayne’s World and Wayne’s World II Actors – Dana Carvey and Olivia d’Abo
These characters are archetypal computer programmer, socially-awkward, spectacle-wearing nerds. They were made for each other.

Raymond Babbitt
From the movie Rain Man Actor – Dustin Hoffman
No explanation needed. Hoffman won an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1988 for this role.

Willy Wonka, and his father in the 2005 movie From the movies Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971, director Mel Stuart) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005, director Tim Burton*), both based on the Roald Dahl book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Actors – Gene Wilder, Johnny Depp
Wonka is an intelligent, creative, childlike and very eccentric misanthrope. He wears odd formal attire. In the more recent version, Wonka has an odd, fake-looking smile and does not like to touch people, not even his own father. Wonka’s frosty father does not enjoy hugs any more than Willy does. Some autistic people find touching others uncomfortable, and are not natural smilers. In one scene Willy blurts out some nonsense words for no apparent reason, suggestive of Tourette’s syndrome, which is often found with Asperger syndrome, or this could be an example of the autistic behaviour of “talking to your self”. The characterisation of Willy Wonka by Johnny Depp is thought to borrow many traits from the legendary entertainer Michael Jackson. Some features of the Willy Wonka character also remind me of Lewis Carroll*, who, like Jackson, had a special affinity with children and could be described as a brilliant eccentric. Some autistic adults prefer the company of children or animals more than the company of (neurotypical) adults. Lewis Carroll* has been identified as an autistic by Prof. Michael Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald 2005, Fitzgerald 2004). There has been some speculation that the movie director Tim Burton* may be on the autistic spectrum (Sampson 2004, W.E.N.N. 2005), including speculation from Burton's partner actress Helena Bonham-Carter. There seems to be a pattern of main characters in Burton's movies who are loners or outsiders, and who have autistic traits. The author of the children's book that the movies were based on, Roald Dahl, was a misanthrope in real life.

Memorable quote from Willy Wonka –
"You can't run a chocolate factory with a family hanging over you like an old dead goose... no offense.”

Edward Scissorhands
From the movie Edward Scissorhands directed by Tim Burton*
Actor – Johnny Depp
Edward is an outsider who is different and misunderstood. Cory Sampson has written an article in which this movie is analysed as a psychological allegory of a man “afflicted” with Asperger syndrome. Sampson also speculated that Burton may be on the autistic spectrum (Sampson 2004).

Jack Skellington
From the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas also known as Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas directed by Henry Selick, based on the story by Tim Burton*
Voice – speaking - Chris Sarandon, singing – Danny Elfman
Jack is the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown. He has a quaint, formal way of speaking. Jack has an almost naïve decency in his personality and an almost childlike enthusiasm for invention and innovation, but there’s also something a bit scary about Jack, if there weren’t he could hardly be the Pumpkin King. Jack is a single-minded and obsessive workaholic. He is always thinking about new ideas for the next Halloween, even on the 1st day of November. When Jack discovers the spirit of Christmas in Christmastown, he is fascinated but does not understand what it is. Jack tries desperately to understand Christmas by reverse-engineering and chemically analysing Christmas artefacts using the scientific method, but he still misses the point. This is an amusing example of an autistic person unsuccessfully trying to understand the emotional experiences of other people by using the methodology of systemizing.

The Princess
From the Hans Christian Andersen* story The Princess and the Pea

The princess is judged to be “a real princess” because of her sensory hypersensitivity, which enables her to feel discomfort from a pea being placed underneath many mattresses. Why the prince in this story and his royal family should all consider sensory hypersensitivity to be a defining characteristic of true nobility is an interesting question to ponder, but it should be noted that the author of this story has been identified as a person who had Asperger syndrome (Fitzgerald 2005) and therefore was likely to have had this sensory condition himself.

The Innocent Child Who Spoke the Truth
From the Hans Christian Andersen* story The Emperor’s New Clothes
Autistics are thought by some to have an unusual level of moral integrity with regard to telling the truth, or to be so outspoken and frank that it can be considered provocative or rude.

Pris, Roy Batty, Rachael and others
From the cult science fiction movie Blade Runner based on the novel by Philip K. Dick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Actors – Daryl Hannah*, Rutger Hauer and Sean Young
These characters are replicants, artificially created humanoids made of flesh and blood but neurologically different to humans. Replicants are built to have a very limited life-span. Replicants are thought to lack the ability to empathize, but they do fall in love, (at least with other replicants), and some do not know that they are not human. Replicants are being hunted down for extermination following a mutiny against humans in which the replicants asserted their right to the same freedoms as those enjoyed by natural humans. Some autistic people identify with the replicant characters in this movie. Hauer’s performance as Roy Batty has been described as “… cold, Aryan, flawless.” Batty’s ruthlessness may seem cold, but it is obvious that he is seething with fury because of the replicants’ disadvantaged place in society. The bounty hunter Rick Deckard in the film may also unknowingly be a replicant.

The actress Daryl Hannah*, who played the replicant Pris in this movie was reportedly diagnosed as "borderline autistic" as a child (MailOnline 2007) and was recommended for institutionalization (Wood 2009).

Australian censorship rating of movie - M

The blonde alien children From the British 1960 science fiction movie Village of the Damned based on the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham. There was a 1963 sequel titled Children of the Damned which had similar characters and plot
All women of childbearing age in the village of Midwich simultaneously fall pregnant and the offspring are all strangely alike, blonde, highly intelligent and appear to be lacking in emotion. They do not bond emotionally with their human "parents" and "peers". As children they are feared and rejected by their community and come into conflict with their community. The hair and the fingernails of these strange children are studied scientifically and are found to be not normal. Although the story is that these kids are aliens, they are also in some ways like children who have a genetic syndrome. There is in fact at least one genetic syndrome on the OMIM database that has a symptom that can be detected by inspecting (pale) hairs under a microscope. Autism and autism-like behaviour/personalities are found in a number of genetic syndromes. The blonde brainiac kids are educated in a special segregated and highly accelerated class - in this respect they are like intellectually gifted children. In real life there appears to be a link between intellectual giftedness and the autistic spectrum, so in many ways these alien fictional characters mirror the lives of some autistic children.

Characters in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen In the book So odd a mixture: along the autistic spectrum in 'Pride and Prejudice' Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer identifies eight characters in Austen’s classic novel, including “Mr Darcy”, as being on the autistic spectrum.

Bartleby the Scrivener From the short story Bartleby the Scrivener: a story of Wall Street by Herman Melville*. Professor Stuart Murray has identified this character as autistic in a conference paper. The author Herman Melville* has been identified as autistic in the book The genesis of artistic creativity: Asperger’s syndrome and the arts by Professor Michael Fitzgerald.
Thomas Jerome Newton
From the 1976 movie The Man Who Fell to Earth directed by Nicolas Roeg, loosely based on the 1963 science fiction novel The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis.
Actor – David Bowie
Thomas Newton is a closet alien who came to Earth who makes a fortune on Earth from patenting technologies using advanced technical knowledge brought from another planet, but despite his huge wealth he remains an outsider from human society and human relationships. The metaphor of the alien on a strange planet has been used many times by autistics and others to describe the autistic’s place in society. One line of dialogue is thought to be a reference to the rock musical Tommy, which is explicitly about an autistic character, so the similarities between the alien character Newton and autistics are probably intentional. The pale, thin Newton has at least one sensory ability that humans do not have, and he often wears sunglasses to protect his eyes from glare. In one scene (in section 15 of the DVD) Newton rocks while sitting. Newton never “makes small talk”, unlike his human girlfriend Mary-Lou. Social climbing and romance with humans are not priorities for Newton. Despite his wealth, he has a human girlfriend who is uneducated and lower-class, and he does not really love her. Newton’s mind and heart are on another planet. Newton came to Earth as a part of an unsuccessful plan to save his (alien) people on his home planet, where he left a wife and children behind. Mary-Lou is terror-stricken when Newton strips off his human disguise and reveals to her his true alien nature. Newton appoints a human lawyer to do the face-to-face dealing with humans necessary for the management of his corporation, but he is betrayed by the lawyer and things go badly wrong for Newton. At one point in the movie Newton is imprisoned by medicos wearing white coats and fake smiles who unsuccessfully try to convince him that he is not an alien. Throughout all these hardships and disappointments Newton is stoic and not emotionally expressive. While the human characters age Newton remains young looking. Newton becomes a sad (but quiet and well-behaved) alcoholic who loses touch with the humans from his past.

I think the life story of Sir Isaac Newton*, a loner who’s technical knowledge was way ahead of his time, was probably an influence on the creation of this alien character. I guess the character’s first name is from the rock musical character and the surname is from the physicist. Sir Isaac Newton* has been identified by two authors, one an autism expert, as having been an autistic (Baron-Cohen 2003, James 2004, James 2005).

The story of eccentric genius inventor Nikola Tesla*, who died in a state of poverty and at one time claimed to be an alien born to human parents, is thought to have been an inspiration for this character (Seifer, 1996). Tesla was a visual thinker and is thought by some to have been autistic. David Bowie has a history of playing autistic characters in movies; he portrayed famous autist Andy Warhol* in the film Basquiat and Bowie played Nikola Tesla* in the 2006 movie The Prestige. In the original book the main character’s name is the same as in the movie, and the planet that he came from is named Anthea. In the book Antheans are superior in intelligence to humans and less emotional.
Quote about Newton from other characters in the movie –
Farnsworth “I don’t trust him.”
Trevor “I don’t trust you.” Farnsworth “That doesn’t alter my feeling for you.”
Trevor “Has he ever been wrong?” Farnsworth “No, but he’s a freak.”

Question from Mary-Lou to Newton –
“Am I talking too much?”

Conversation between human Nate and Newton –
Nate “Don’t you feel bitter about it … everything?”
Newton “Bitter, no. We’d have probably treated you the same if you’d come over to our place.”

Australian censorship rating of movie – R 18+

Morticia, Wednesday and Pugsley Addams
From the 1960s US comedy television series The Addams Family
Actors – Carolyn Jones, Lisa Loring and Ken Weatherwax
One of the funniest things about true eccentrics is that we often don’t realize that we aren’t perfectly ordinary and normal. I think Jones’ TV Morticia is more like an aspie than Anjelica Houston’s cinematic Tish in the movie Addams Family Values. The movie Morticia seems more smug, calm and self-confident, while the TV series Morticia was sometimes surprised or perplexed when confronted with normal people and their inexplicable ways, a typical aspie experience.

Link to page containing image:

Harvey Denton, his wife Val and their twin daughters and Chloe and Radclyffe From the UK television series The League of Gentlemen.
Mr Denton breeds toads, is very serious about cleanliness and speaks in an odd pedantic manner, coming up with some wonderfully original phrases. The uncanny twins are very serious and knowledgeable for their age, rather like Wednesday Addams multiplied by two. The family have some very strange ways.
Memorable quote from Harvey Denton:
“Conducting yourself in the solo symphony?”

Link to guide to characters:
Australian censorship rating of TV series DVD - M

Bernard Marx
From the 1932 science fiction novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Bernard Marx was born into one of the highest castes, and is therefore expected to be superior in intelligence (which he is), but in appearance and behaviour he does not fit in socially with his elite peers. There are rumours that there was some technical glitch in the artificial womb in which Bernard was created, which would make him slightly biologically sub-normal and non-standard in a society in which people are genetically engineered to be homogenous within their castes. He is a loner misfit in a hedonistic and superficial society in which promiscuous sex and drug use are almost compulsory. The enjoyment of solitude is frowned upon and profound emotional and intellectual experiences are considered to be unhealthy and anti-social.
Information about Brave New World
Information about Bernard Marx

John Rambo From the movie Rambo: First Blood Part 2 Actor – Sylvester Stallone (also co-wrote screenplay)
Rambo has a classically autistic monotone voice (Stallone's natural voice), and also has minimal body language, despite the fact that he is filled with anger. He is a man of few words, but not lacking intelligence. Rambo appears to have more moral integrity than other characters in the movie, and he is very determined and single-minded. He expertly uses some very nice pieces of technology.

The actor Sylvester Stallone has a son who has been diagnosed as autistic.

Australian censorship rating of movie – M 15+

Dr Anton Phibes, Mrs Victoria Regina Phibes and Vulnavia From the movies The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again Actors – Vincent Price, Caroline Munro (in photographs), Virginia North
All three characters are cold and aloof in their personal presentation. Phibes is highly intelligent and educated, obsessive, and has very strong emotions. He performs impassioned monologues to his deceased wife when he is alone. He executes his brilliant plan to avenge the death of his wife with great precision and no empathy for those who he blames. Phibes has absolutely no tolerance for people in the professions who are technically incompetent, an attitude displayed by some intellectually gifted aspies. Phibes’ social circle appears to be limited to only one person, his assistant Vulnavia. Perhaps this is why he misses his deceased wife so acutely. Mrs Phibes is identified by one character as having been a strange person. Vulnavia is mute but still works with Phibes very effectively in a two-person team. They have a relationship that seems to be very precisely planned and choreographed.
Memorable quote from Dr Phibes –
“Within twenty-four hours, my work will be finished, and then, my precious jewel, I will join you in your setting. We shall be reunited forever in a secluded corner of the great elysian field of the beautiful beyond!” Australian censorship rating of Abominable Dr. Phibes – M 15+

Roderick Usher and his sister Madeline From the story The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe and the movie of the same name
Actors – Vincent Price and Myrna Fahey
Roderick obsesses over what he believes is a severe character flaw inherited through the Usher family line. Roderick lives an isolated life within the crumbling family mansion.
Memorable quote –
"Madeline and I are like figures of fine glass. The slightest touch and we may shatter. Both of us suffer from a morbid acuteness of the senses..." Australian censorship rating of movie – PG

Ada McGrath
From the movie The Piano (director Jane Campion, soundtrack composed by Michael Nyman) Actor – Holly Hunter
Hunter won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1993 for this role.
This mute, musically gifted and strong-willed female lead character is thought by some to be autistic.

Dr Gregory House From the US television series House Actor – Hugh Laurie
House is the head of a hospital medical department, a diagnostic genius who is also a maverick and a misanthrope. People find him difficult or unpleasant to deal with. There has been some speculation as to whether this character is an aspie, and in one episode House speculated about this after dealing with an autistic child patient. In some ways the character resembles a stereotype of an intellectually gifted aspie, having an extensive medical knowledge, a love of solving medical puzzles, good attention to detail, and a disappointment with the failings of humanity. It appears that the character has been modelled on the classic fictional detective character Sherlock Holmes, a character who, like House, has a drug addiction, is highly intelligent and is a loner. The surnames “House” and “Holmes” are similar. Sherlock Holmes has been identified by an autism expert as an autistic character created by an autistic writer (Fitzgerald 2005). I personally think House is too articulate and intentionally offensive to be a typical adult autist. I don’t believe drug addiction is an autistic trait or is even more common in autistics than the general population.

The Kransky Sisters
Australian musical comedy trio
Actors - Annie Lee, Christine Johnston and Michele Watt
Quote from press review by Alison Jane Miller "... their unusual musical act draws on naivete, spinsterhood and a somewhat Gothic existence to form the world of three eccentric sisters." The Kranskys are from rural Queensland and they rarely smile. They play instruments including a tuba, tambourines and a musical saw. They have a conservative and severe dress code reminiscent of the Blues Brothers. Librarians used to dress in the Kransky style in the time before the profession of librarianship went to the dogs.

Sam Kekovich
Although Sam Kekovich is indeed a real person (an ex-AFL footy player), the comedic persona presented in the Australian TV advertisements for Australian lamb (screened anually around Australia Day), is obviously exaggerated and is a characterization
Actor-Sam Kekovich
In the deliberately controversial advertisements Mr Kekovich delivers impassioned, slightly offensive and somewhat nonsensical monologues, using a choice of words that is often quaint and oddly formal, while staring expressionlessly at the camera, without as much as a blink or a twitch of a facial muscle, with a most unnatural style of eye contact, as though he is Elliot Goblet's redneck uncle. Australian comedy has certainly made great mileage out of the more amusing aspects of autistic body-language and communication styles. Did Kekovich steal his famous catch-phrase from a real autistic eccentric with political opinions? David “Screaming Lord” Sutch* was a British rock musician who co-founded a political protest party; the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. Sutch’s biography contains a believable claim that he had Asperger syndrome. One famous campaign slogan of Sutch’s was “Vote for insanity: you know it makes sense.”
Memorable Kekovich quote
"You know it makes sense!"

Some more fictional characters that might belong in this list

some literary characters created by American author Sherwood Anderson*

Grace Cleave the main character from the semi-autobiographical novel Towards Another Summer by NZ author Janet Frame*

Bender from the animated American TV comedy series Futurama

Chauncey Gairdner from the movie Being There

Rik and Vyvyan from The Young Ones British 1980s TV comedy series (Vyvyan is a medical student and a punk with a noticeable lack of empathy. The Vyvyan character is clearly based on punk rockers such as Sid Vicious, who had a strange facial expression as does Vyvyan, and was in fact a top academic perfomer when we was in high school.)

Arthur Putey from Monty Python

Jack Isidore from the novel Confessions of a Crap Artist by Philip K. Dick, who was a very strange person

Bill Lundborg from the novel The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick

Noah Joad from the novel The Grapes of Wrath, identified as possibly autistic in the blog Kingdom of Introversion

Meg from the novel A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
discussed in the blog Embracing Chaos

Characters in Ayn Rand novels (Ayn Rand was an odd duck and a misanthrope and has been identified as having had Asperger syndrome by a number of commentators.)

D-Fens / William Foster in the Hollywood movie Falling Down (An angry engineer who dresses in a conservative, nerdy style feels that the world has treated him badly despite his attempts to do the right thing in good faith. Autism has been linked with engineering in some scientific studies, and autistic people often display a bad temper and a plain or conservative style of dress. D-Fens clearly identified himself with his job as an engineer in a defense industry, and is probably left feeling that he has no social identity or place in society after he is retrenched from his job.)

Lisbeth Salander victimized computer hacker with a photographic memory and deadpan facial expressions from the bestselling Millenium Series novels by Steig Larsson, including The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. These novels were made into movies in which the Salander character was played by Noomi Rapace. Apparently the Salander character is explicitly identified as a possible case of Asperger syndrome in at least one of these novels. The author is quoted as saying this character is what he imagines the Pippi Longstocking character would be like as a grown-up.

Pippi Longstocking a character in a series of childrens' books by Swedish author Astrid Lundgren

The Deranged Cousins by Edward Gorey, who was a loner and an odd duck.

Book References

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2003) The essential difference. Penguin Books.

Bottomer, Phyllis Ferguson (2007) So odd a mixture: along the autistic spectrum in ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Cowen, Tyler (2009) Create your own economy: the path to prosperity in a disordered world. Dutton, 2009.

Crabb, Annabel (2010) Rise of the Ruddbot: observations from the gallery. Black Inc, July 2010.

Crabb, Annabel (2007) Take me to your leader - Ruddbot wired for power. The Sydney Morning Herald. November 24th 2007.

Egan, Greg (1995) Distress. Millennium.
Fitzgerald, Michael (2005) The genesis of artistic creativity: Asperger’s syndrome and the arts. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Fitzgerald, Michael (2004) Autism and Creativity: is there a link between autism in men and exceptional ability? Brunner-Routledge.

Green with envy at Daryl Hannah. MailOnline. April 21st 2007.

Gross, Terri. (2004) Comedian – and writer – Dan Aykroyd. Fresh Air. NPR. November 22 2004. [discusses his childhood diagnosis at around 29 minutes into this radio interview]
Hassler, Donald M. & Wilcox, Clyde (2008) New boundaries in political science fiction. University of South Carolina Press, 2008.
[The autism of two fictional characters in the novel Distress by Greg Egan is discussed, can be previewed at Google Books]
James, Ioan (2005) Asperger syndrome and high achievement: some very remarkable people. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

James, Ioan (2004) Remarkable physicists: from Galileo to Yukawa. Cambridge University Press.

Murray, Stuart (2004?) Bartleby, Preference, Pleasure and Autistic Presence.
Cognitive Disability and Textuality: Autism and Fiction, 2004, MLA Convention, Philadelphia, PA, 27-30 December.

Rudd, Jessica (2010) Campaign Ruby. Text Publishing, 2010.

Sampson, Cory (2004) Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands as a psychological allegory. The Tim Burton Collective.

Seifer, Marc J. (1996) Wizard: the life and times of Nikola Tesla, biography of a genius. Carol Publishing Group.

Sharpe, Graham (2005) The man who was Screaming Lord Sutch. Aurum Press. 2005.

Tilley, Cristen (2007) I, Ruddbot. November 15th 2007.

Westfahl, Gary (2006) Homo aspergerus: evolution stumbles forward. Locus Online. March 6th 2006. [H. L. Gold, H. P. Lovecraft and Greg Egan identified as possible cases of AS]

Wood, Gaby (2009) A bigger splash. Weekend Australian. July 18-19 2009 Review p. 22-23.

Wood, Gaby (2009) I'm a little bit of a nerd. Observer. June 7th 2009.

[same article as above]
World Entertainment News Network (2005) Burton may be autistic.

* Denotes people who are included in this list:
A referenced list of 174 famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum

Copyright Lili Marlene 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011.


Anonymous said...

Hokey Smokes! I thought I was the LONE holdout for identifying "Bartelby the Scrivener" as suffering from Asperger's. Now I don't feel so quite alone.

Lili Marlene said...

Autistic writers tend to create autistic characters.

I haven't read the story myself. In what ways did this character suffer?

Larry Arnold PhD FRSA said...

For a change I agree with the identifications you have adduced for examples of Asperger's in fiction. Those I am familiar with at least, I don't do Australian comedy shows.

I have however, in terms of identifying the authors, more doubt, especially where Michael Fitzgerald is concerned. I would possibly addd Michael Fitzgerald himself to my list of suspects however.

As for me I like to find Aspie's in Shakespeare. I think there are three different types in "Twelfth Night" Malvolio the humourless, rulebound one, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, the guileless, gullible one, and Feste my favourite, the witty fool, and looking at the original actors, whilst Shakespeares other fool Will Kemp, spent his time on publicity stunts like long distance Morris dancing, Robert Armin, who played Feste, Touchstone and Lear's fool wrote a history of fooling, a serious fool indeed.

Lili Marlene said...

You're way above my head with that Shakespeare stuff, but it sounds interesting.

Anonymous said...

In Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris, the intellectually brilliant but socially clueless young Archdeacon, Claude, destroys himself and all around him. I fell in love with him as a character in my teens. Now, diagnosed late as Aspie, I realise what a large part of the attraction was: he's as Aspie as it gets.
Claude-logic on chatting up girls runs like this (he's a Catholic priest, still a virgin at 35, so there's a problem to start with):
1. I can't talk to a dancing-girl in public – my reputation would be destroyed.
2. I will get someone I trust to bring her to me (i.e. abduct her from the street).
3. The best person to do that is my adopted child (does not occur to him that any woman would run a mile if she sees Quasimodo chasing after her, especially after dark)...
Claude has studied in every faculty in the university, knows Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and has his own laboratory. But social skills? You must be joking...