Off the Rails

A documentary about a subway-obsessed Black man in NYC whose Asperger's Syndrome gets him into trouble

Many of us are lucky enough to be hooked on socially acceptable things, while others have impulses that turn them into monsters. Somewhere toward the middle of that spectrum (and others) is the subject of Adam Irving’s fascinating, occasionally heartbreaking documentary Off the Rails, the affable Darius McCollum. Afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome — which is technically no longer an official diagnosis in the current psychiatric manual — he loves everything about the New York subway. The clockwork order of the system appealed to 8-year-old Darius — who wanted to be Liberace (Liberace!) before he discovered mass transit — and an operator let him drive a train by himself at 15. Darius made all the stops and kept the train on schedule, though a White newscaster described the Black teenager as “hijacking” the train and taking it for a “joyride.” After being incarcerated more than two dozen times for driving hundreds of trains, the middle-aged Darius has spent much of his life in prison for victimless crimes for which he’s received no rehabilitation, and there’s little question that the sentencing wouldn’t have been so harsh if he were not a husky Black man. In addition to being a character study of a tragic figure, Off the Rails is an indictment of a justice system that hasn’t been on the rails for a long time, if ever.

Off the Rails
Not rated.
Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.

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