Film Review: X+Y looks at love and loss

X+Y’s Addy Fong reviews the latest film from director Morgan Matthews, starring Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins:

I’ve never liked maths. In fact, I remember telling my high school maths teacher how much I hated it (sorry). To me, maths has always been a series of numbers and patterns which have never made sense in my head. So upon seeing X+Y, a film about an autistic little boy, Nathan (Asa Butterfield) who struggles to relate to others but finds comfort in mathematics, I was a little hesitant as to whether I would enjoy it.

However, the equation of this film seemed simple enough: Guy meets girl. Girl meets guy. Guy likes maths, father dies. Girl like maths, so does guy. Guy likes patterns, sequences and repetition, and thinks love is an equation. This makes sense in my head at least.

X+Y travels between suburban England and Taiwan, exploring the challenges of conflicting cultures and plotting the many viewpoints and expressions each of the characters have though out the film.

Many stereotypes were used throughout, which was a little annoying, especially the generalisation that all Asians are insanely talented at maths. That said, this film pretty much revolves around a maths championship, the IMO (International Mathematics Olympiad), which Nathan trains for with the help of occasionally rude Mr Humphreys (Rafe Spall). Maybe I’m being a little sensitive regarding this stereotype but hey, I’ve never liked maths and I’m Asian. I didn’t really understand any of the references to maths but the story was still easy to follow, even for those not mathematically minded like myself.

Of course, this film had to be about love and the prospect of romance between Zhang Mei (Jo Yang), Nathan’s mathematics equal from China. Although predictable, X+Y explores the concept of love in a cross cultural setting including cultural and family pressures, and the idea that love means considering the other person, with an example being specifically, both main characters having learnt each other’s language prior to meeting in order to communicate. Love is about understanding and communication is one aspect of this.

Parallel to love is loss and the sudden loss of Nathan’s father (Martin McCann) prior to opening credits as well as the distress of being a newly widowed single mum (Sally Hawkins). This sets the tone of the film with director Morgan Matthews presenting us with a carefully considered story, encouraging viewers to be sensitive towards issues of autism, depression, mental illness, culture, the challenges of being a single parent, as well as the fragile battle between love and loss.

Slow motion is used to create a sense of distortion which reflects of the idea of feeling disconnected. I must commend this as something beautifully and effectively done through the use of carefully considered cinematography which pays homage to Nathan’s love of mathematics and his struggle to connect with those around him. The camera shows us a glimpse as to how he understands the world around him, taking into consideration the Nathan’s perspective, using shots reflective of maths, patterns, and all things considered beautiful by both maths and art lovers alike.

Characters perceived as rude or socially different, either by myself or by the reactions of other characters, at first glance, shifted as the film progressed and I found myself feeling empathetic towards them by the end. Although I agree that autism and shyness makes it hard to connect with others socially, I felt this generalisation didn’t justify Nathan’s behaviour, in particular his rude and controlling treatment of his mother, Julie. Sometimes she even seems a little scared of him. Perhaps you should watch this film and then decide whether or not you agree with me. Work it out for yourself, as they say.

Since I don’t enjoy mathematics, I’m not sure whether I would agree with the statement, ‘If beauty is truth, and truth is beauty, well, then surely mathematics is the most beautiful thing of all.’

I agree however, that this film was indeed beautiful. A reason for watching X+Y is its exploration of character development, relationships and how we all struggle with love and loss. There are times in our lives when we feel like outliers, when we also feel so disconnected from the world that there is no possible solution to an equation we never understood in the first place. Despite the differences of opinion, whether or not you like maths, the story is simple: X+Y is the story of a young boy who has lost his father and has been trying to cope.



Words by Addy Fong. X + Y hits cinemas in March.