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River Phoenix stars as young Brian Ellsworth, who suffers from an undiagnosed case of the reading disorder dyslexia. Frustrated and ashamed because he can't read or write, he takes out his anger by defacing a school hallway in "Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia," airing as an "ABC Afterschool Specials" presentation WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 1984 (4:30-5:30 p.m., EST), on the ABC Television Network.
"WEHTA FALBKS WITH RIANSIS"
River's minor role in Celebrity did not go unnoticed it seems since shortly thereafter he was offered the lead role no less in what, remarkably, was only his third television project. Shot in 1983 and released in 1984, it was an after-school educational program made for TV on the subject of dyslexia, a difficulty with reading and writing which a person has because of a slight disorder of the brain.
In thirty-five minutes, this program shows the effects of dyslexia on a young boy, the difficulties he meets in his daily life and the consequences on his own behavior at home and at school. It goes from an unsuccessful attempt to read the wheat flakes box at breakfast time and the menu at the college canteen through to even being unable to follow the white lines on the running track. But it could obviously have very bad results on the cultural development of young people suffering from dyslexia. The positive aim of the program is to demonstrate how dyslexic people can be helped by people around them and specialists. It gives the name of many illustrious people who not only had a very successful life but also became famous despite suffering from dyslexia: among them the physicist Albert Einstein, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and the athlete Bruce Jenner.
This short but accurate description of the ordinary life of a young American in the eighties clearly created no special problems for River. It is remarkable to see how easily he seems to play a pupil despite the fact that he himself spent so little time attending a regular school. In fact, River's talent is self-evident in every little detail. For example, during the scene designed to demonstrate the difficulty his character experiences with writing, River deliberately uses his left hand, hence an almost illegible writing given that River himself was right-handed.
Relations between Brian Ellsworth and his teachers are very convincing but the family scenes and the link between Brian and his younger brother look especially sincere. This is very understandable when it appears than Robby is played by none other than Joaquin Phoenix and the affection between the two brothers, the characters and the real ones, is not acting but rather wholly genuine.
"Now, when I look upon the accomplishment of those years, I marvel."