January 24, 2017 -- This documentary film, full of ups and downs, had me rooting for a convicted felon, hoping that he could just stay out of prison for a little while. It is both funny and tragic to see how the New York City transit system and the criminal justice system both failed so miserably to deal responsibly with Darius McCollum, a man with autism who loves trains and buses way too much.
At one point in the film we actually see and hear a judge make her own diagnosis of Darius, a man diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome by psychiatrists. She says he does not have Asperger's Syndrome, based on her own research on the internet. The judge, after making her own medical determination, then promptly sentences Darius to five years in prison for something he did not do in the first place. I guess the idea is to save money by not subjecting him to a professional psychiatric evaluation.
Darius is a fascinating character, as described by himself and people who know him, social workers, lawyers, medical people, his mother and his wife. Stabbed, and almost killed, by a fellow classmate in grade school, he gradually gravitated towards New York's vast subway system, where his friendly nature and curiosity made him a favorite of employees.
Subways are a place where Darius feels safe. The routine, the dependability of the schedules, appeals to him. Eventually, and amazingly, a train engineer allowed Darius to make a subway run on his own, even though he was not an employee. He was caught and arrested, the first of scores of such arrests for impersonating subway workers and bus drivers, and for driving trains and buses.
Technically, Darius was stealing trains and buses by driving them without permission, or joyriding, but he was always friendly, polite and acted like a professional. He collected the fares on the buses, drove the correct routes and brought the buses back to where they belonged when he completed the route. Even on his first attempt at driving a subway train, he drove the route correctly and made all the right stops, and all the right announcements. He did this hundreds of times. His knowledge of the system is encyclopedic, but his attempts to actually get a job on these transit systems failed.
The film also shows that Darius enjoyed working as a volunteer at a transit museum in the city, but he was banned from there as well because of his criminal background. Darius is an upbeat guy, even after years in prison, but the lowest he got was when he had to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and was forbidden to be around subway trains or platforms. He simply could not live without being around the subway system. In prison, where he was isolated as a supposed security threat because of his vast knowledge of the New York transit systems, he contemplated suicide.
It seems the judicial system simply did not know how to deal with Darius. Prosecutors in the film said the only thing they could do was to send him to jail or prison. When he got out, he always repeated the same, illegal behavior. He had hundreds of keys and could get into just about any transit facility. He also had uniforms so that he looked like a transit employee. When the transit workers went on strike, he manned the picket lines with them.
I could not help but root for this guy, but he never could fit into society. The only place he felt at home was on the subway. The trains and buses gave him peace of mind and joy. His amazing antics are both funny and tragic. Writer-director Adam Irving and writer Tchavdar Georgiev, provide a comprehensive, bittersweet portrait of a man who is a round peg that society keeps trying to force into a square hole. This film rates a B.
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