Film Review: X+Y

by Mark Woodhouse

Rated M. Starring Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall. Directed by Morgan Matthews.

If truth is beauty, and beauty is truth, then mathematics must be the most beautiful thing of all. So says maths coach Richard (Eddie Marsan).

But when your husband is killed in a car accident, leaving you to raise your autistic child alone, the beauty in the world is hard to see. When your father, the only person you have anything close to normal social contact with, is killed in a car accident, the beauty in the world is hard to see. When your central nervous system is being corrupted by Multiple Sclerosis, when even your fellow maths nerd social-outcasts bully you, when the weight of family expectations starts to crush you, the beauty in the world is hard to see.

This is the paradox at the heart of X+Y, and there emerges a real tension between truth and beauty.

We look through the eyes of autistic teenager Nathan Ellis (Butterfield) at the beauty of patterns – mathematics, skyscrapers, tiles, an overhead bypass. We catch glimpses of the shimmering colours of his synesthesia. We see flashbacks to delightful times with his father. But we also see the car crash that killed his father. We also see his aversion to human contact, his shock at affection, his fear of people.

This is all skillfully shown through clever cinematography that draws us in to the character’s mindset, a mindset foreign to most. Asa Butterfield is excellent as Nathan, and gives a wonderful performance. The rest of the cast is also fantastic, drawing us further and further into the story and the anxieties, fears, and hopes of the characters. No character is untouched by pain, no character untouched by beauty.  

There is undeniably beauty in this world. There is beauty in a perfect mathematical equation, in a recurring pattern, and especially in relationships with other people. There is some kind of glory in the world, and X+Y points to it. This glory, says the Bible, belongs to God. This beauty, says the Bible, is the beauty of God (Psalm 19).

But also, there is undeniably pain in this world. The beauty we see is only a part of the picture. Our bodies and minds sometimes stutter or fail, sometimes obscure or injure our relationships, which in and of themselves are far from stable and reliable, and are always ended by death. X+Y also points us to this. 

This reminds us that, though God’s world shows us his beauty in many ways, it is still broken by sin. But we hope in our faithful God, who has promised to set the world to rights (Romans 8:21), and to make all things new and end all death and mourning and crying and pain (Revelation 21)! Then we will experience the beauty of God in full.

If truth is beauty, and beauty is truth, then the gospel of Jesus must be the most beautiful thing of all.

X+Y is a film that explores our beautiful and painful world through the eyes of a teenager who is himself a microcosm of that paradox. It’s moving, it’s engaging, it’s entertaining, and it’s fantastic. Five stars.

X+Y releases in UK cinemas on 13th March, and in Australian cinemas on 9th April.

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