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Alison Wilde takes a look at Snow Cake - starring Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Ann Moss. / 20 October 2009

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Dr. Alison Wilde; photo: www.davidxgreen.com

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Snow Cake went on general release in September 2006. It was directed by Marc Evans, written by Angela Pell and stars Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Ann Moss.

"I know all about autism, I’ve seen that movie" is the most memorable and ironic line in Snow Cake. With inevitable similarities to Rainman and other schmaltz ridden or ‘worthy’ tales, this story centres on Linda Freeman (Sigourney Weaver), a woman who has autism. However, the main emphasis is put upon Alex Hughes (Alan Rickman), a man who is reluctantly embarking on a journey of self-understanding, instigated by Linda’s hitchhiking daughter, Vivienne Freeman (Emily Hampshire).

The story of Linda and Alex (and his romance with Linda’s neighbour Maggie, played by Carrie-Ann Moss) really begins when he visits Linda to confess that he was the driver of the car in which Vivienne died. The rest of the film is centred upon the growing relationship between Linda and himself and their interactions with the local community.

The story is well acted and frequently moving but it misses opportunities to create greater authenticity, such as casting a disabled actor. Avoiding the common discourses of exceptionality and cognitive impairment, Linda is portrayed, overall, as quirky and prone to frustration. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of her characterisation is her apparent lack of sexuality. Just to make this point absolutely clear, Linda comments that the sound of her daughter experiencing orgasm was akin to her own superior pleasures of eating snow, a central motif as the title suggests.

Nonetheless, we are encouraged to learn new perspectives on autism, particularly in understanding the importance of disabled people’s independence and of the underestimated possibilities of disabled parenting. Perhaps most crucially it underlines the value to disabled people of empathetic forms of social support, especially when members of the community become a little more involved in the grieving process.

Despite portrayals of the actions of the local community as a prime cause of Linda’s difficulties, the story generally sticks to the usual strategy of using impairment as a deviation from cultural norms - ironically, music for the film was provided by Broken Social Scene.

Occasionally the disabling effects of cultural norms are put under the spotlight, including the harassment Linda is subjected to by the local law enforcement officer. Most movingly, this is accomplished when Linda dances at her daughter’s wake, to the disgust of local community members. This is the film’s greatest strength; the portrayal of prejudice as the greatest disability of all.