I usually like to file my impressions of a film as soon after seeing a film as possible, but I’m kind of glad that I waited until the next day to write this. When I walked out of Stand Clear of the Closing Doors last night, I really liked it… eighteen hours later, I’m pretty sure I loved it.
The opening scenes of the film are really successful in introducing us to both our central family and the world in which they reside. Mariana is a maid with two teenaged children, Carla and Ricky. Her husband is currently doing contract labor in a remote location. Carla is your typical fashion-obsessed, bratty teen with one major responsibility – to walk her autistic brother Ricky home from school.
The family lives in a low income section of Rockaway Beach, just blocks from the more affluent neighborhood where Mariana is employed.This neighborhood also happens to be the end of the line for the A train, the NYC subway line that has the furthest reach.
Ricky is high functioning and thus has been mainstreamed in school. Despite his obvious intelligence, Ricky often responds to his environment in ways not considered ânormal,’ and needs urging to meet his own basic needs, such as eating. Early scenes speak to the challenge Mariana faces in convincing the school to keep Ricky despite his obvious drain on the staff’s attention.
After a particularly frustrating day at school, coincidentally the same day that Carla has decided that Ricky can handle walking home on his own, Ricky follows a man (whose clothing fascinates him) onto the subway. He subsequently disappears into the labyrinthian network that is the New York City subway system. What follows is a dichotomous story: Mariana’s quest to find her son and Ricky’s journey, the latter being the soul of this film.
When Ricky doesn’t come home, Mariana finds herself in quite the predicament, as alerting the police would reveal the family’s immigration status. Despite the very real tension Fleischner created between mother and daughter, the lack of urgency, which persisted even after the police had been alerted, nagged at me. If a minor with autism was reported missing, it would likely result in a fevered city-wide search. That said, Mariana’s internal struggle, beautifully depicted by Andrea Suarez Paz, rings true to the obvious emotional fortress she has built around her in order to survive.
There couldn’t be a better setting than the New York City subway system in which to capture the perception of sensory stimulation by a person in the autism spectrum. The cinematography is stunning, juxtaposing the smallest details against the blurred lines of sensory overload, often layered with Ricky’s almost lyrical inner dialogue. It both floored me and completely made sense to me that Jesus Sanchez-Velez, the actor who portrays Ricky, is actually in the autism spectrum himself.
The interactions between the multifarious passengers that Ricky encounters are authentic – seen probably how Ricky would see them: without empathy or judgement.This almost fly-on-the-wall perspective is perhaps the thing that hit home the most for me. Although I cannot possibly comprehend what it is like to have autism, I can absolutely comprehend âdisappearing’ into the New York City subway. This is one of the few public places I’ve been where it is possible to actually become invisible. Because Ricky does nothing to draw attention to himself, he simply becomes part of the landscape.
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors is an insightful, visually magnificent film. The use of hurricane Sandy to move the story along and create a climactic sense of panic was brilliant. Watching the beaches that I, myself, romped on as a child transform into a disaster area evoked some pretty strong emotion. But that’s me – that’s personal. More importantly, Ricky is a protagonist in which anyone with a heart will feel a strong emotional investment.