More than meets the eye (or why I love the Transformers movies)

St. Optimus of Prime, Craig Kovatch's stained glass rendition.

St. Optimus of Prime, Craig Kovatch’s stained glass rendition.

My left shoulder muscles tighten into a ball of pain. I am couch-bound, writhing, and desperate to find a position that brings relief. Ice, Advil and massages take the edge off, but the pain remains. Wanting to transcend my physical limitations, I visualize myself as an empty shell, like the Statue of Liberty, and fill my inside with the light of the universe. The pain remains. Since meditation and deep breathing bring no relief, I start the DVR recording of the 2007 Transformers movie.

Grind grapple ground glisten. Smash stomp slam scream. Frame fry fizzle fire finish. Demolish destroy damage disintegrate. Hammer hit heroic. Pound pummel pulverize push. Shred slice solid skid. Ricochet. Fracture. Tear. Break. Transform.

Though fictitious, the Transformers possess qualities I do not have and watching them in action as they dominate, succumb and fight back helps me feel better. Unable to pummel my sensory difficulties as Autobots pummel Decepticons, I relish every swipe, blow, contact and screech of metal on metal. The high “EE” sound of their fighting mimics the same sound I use as pain relief; multiple fight scenes can only improve my pain.

My having Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder, means I have feedback difficulties and thus have issues regulating bodily systems. My joints pop in and out socket due to lack of collagen in lax ligaments and tendons; forced to compensate, my muscles often knot over their responsibility to hold wrists, shoulders, hips and knees in place. I’ve been called “elastic girl” because my body stretches without returning to a “normal” pre-stretch position.

In contrast, the robot creatures transform from robot to car or truck and back, each change resulting in a return to the previous state, or in human terms, homeostasis, the ability or tendency of an organism or cell to maintain internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological processes. Autobots return to home state and this is a characteristic I do not possess; I identify more with their “change is constant” capabilities.

No matter what position an Autobot assumes, (and barring total destruction) he will always return to his original shape. They don’t dislocate joints, wear knee and wrist braces or suffer debilitating head or muscle aches. Watching them in action gives me feelings I don’t usually have; most of those feelings are physical sensations that I lack due to my physical limitations. My loose connections mean the signals of feel good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin have trouble getting through. Pushing against things, like a wall or boxing my inflatable Bozo clown, makes me feel better because this physical action connects me. Watching the Transformers helps me too.

Grind grapple ground glisten. Smash stomp slam scream. Frame fry fizzle fire finish. Demolish destroy damage disintegrate. Hammer hit heroic. Pound pummel pulverize push. Shred slice solid skid.

My pain lessens.

The appeal of the Transformers extends beyond action to include physical and emotional aspects, including appearance, adaptability and motivation. Rooted in conflict, their adventures reflect themes of good versus evil with clear protagonists and antagonists. Unlike the muddied waters of sensory challenged communication, Transformer conflict is apparent; the ability to read subtext is not required.

Hope, a central theme in the movies, is amplified by human endeavour to avoid annihilation and remains even as the Autobots face destruction. Hope survives in varied and contrasting feelings of extremes like hot and cold. The 2007 movie alternates between the Arctic and deserts, between “giant iceman” and fiery blasters. It also redirects focus between the human and robot action and interaction, creating a connection between different life forces.

In opposition to the conflicts and contrasts, the Autobots are painted in basic, primary colors of red, blue and yellow. In her blog post “Simple Appeal of Primary Colors,” Caroline Henry writes:

Primary colors attract us from the nursery on up. They are not boring. Perhaps the big three in the world of color used together give the viewer a sense of wholeness, of balance and harmony in the universe. Perhaps they are just bright and jolly and make us want to smile and kick like that infant in the nursery.

The dependability of primary colors complements the solid construction of the Autobots; these beings face daily destruction but are able to beat the world up, defending themselves instead of the other way around. For a person with sensory challenges and who spends a large part of the day feeling as though the world is beating up on her, the Transformers offer a glimpse of what life could be like without sensory defensiveness.

Sleek, shiny and super cool. I feel connected while watching the movie, in the privacy and safety of my home, on a small screen. Big screen flashing, bashing and surround sound pounding and screeching are too sensory stimulating. I love the Transformers. I even named my service dog after the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime.

Philippines Humane Society

Philippines Humane Society

Because of difficulty making connections and lack of serotonin and oxytocin flow, sensory integration challenges are common for those on the autism spectrum. The Transformers, with their wheels, also replicate the same aesthetic qualities as trains. Juniper Russo explains “Why Autistic Children Like Trains” in her article.

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