Ben X is an emotional and thought-provoking ride by first-time Belgium director Nic Balthazar. Watching the trailer you might be forgiven for thinking this is a movie about the dangers of online gaming. In fact MMORPGs are portrayed realistically and in a positive light. Logging on every day is the one uplifting thing in Ben’s otherwise bleak world. He is being bullied mercilessly by his peers because he is different – he suffers from Asperger Syndrome – and online escapism helps him to cope. It’s also a way for him to express his feelings and make friends in a way he can’t in the real world.
The filming is very creative and uses various visual techniques and repeating themes throughout to provide the viewer with an extremely intimate look at Ben’s life. We’re obviously inside his head, hearing his internal monologue and seeing through his eyes, as well as into his imagination. It’s a little trippy in places, with zoomed-in views of peoples faces simulating the effects of Aspergers and at times it can be difficult to distinguish fantasy from reality. However this up-close-and-personal perspective is vital to the story. The only time it cuts away is when it shows documentary-style clips of his parents and teachers saying things like ‘It shouldn’t have happened’ creating a sense of foreboding.
It is stated at the beginning of Ben X that it is based on real-life events, which is easy to believe. Anyone who has been the victim of bullying will find the scenes disturbing in their realism and they may evoke painful memories. Its message is really ‘This problem is out there, don’t ignore it.’ It’s very strong and impeccably produced, if overly long.
To conclude Ben X is not what you expect. Amongst the hellish themes of bullying and suicide there is hope and courage. There are many surprises and reversals. I won’t say any more for fear of spoiling it, but I haven’t seen another film like this. Original and heartfelt.
Fun stuff: Archlord, which Ben plays in the movie, is a real online game that you can play for free!