Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rocks in My Pockets review

Rocks in My Pockets is the darkly and quirkily animated story of the suicide, depression, and schizophrenia across several generations of the filmmaker’s family. Signe Baumane, a Latvian immigrant to New York, acknowledges her own struggle with depression and fantasizing about suicide. This film begins with the story of how her grandparents became a couple. Anna, a twenty-something college graduate in 1920’s Latvia, took an interest in her married, 50-something boss. After attracting his attention, he leaves his wife and marries her. Together, they have eight children; however, Anna finds herself feeling trapped and depressed. She tries to kill herself twice, but is stopped. She ultimately dies in her sleep at age 50. Although she had been physically healthy, her family attributes her death to natural causes or exhaustion; they ignore the evidence that she overdosed on medications. This does not satisfy Signe, who wants to understand why her mind works the way it does; she wants to know “the origins of the intensity of feelings” that she has. Signe goes on to share how she deals with her own struggles; by being available to other people, connecting with them and helping them, she finds the strength to stay “alive and sane” from day to day.

The Adoption Connection
Signe wants to understand an element of herself. She believes that knowing the truth about her grandmother will help her understand herself, but she is frustrated when people seem to try to hide the truth. Ultimately, she does learn enough about her family history to be helped. Although Rocks in My Pockets isn’t an adoption story, it does capture the importance of honest information about one’s genetic family.

Strong Points
Baumane has said that animation can provide a window into thought and emotion that live action can’t provide. She’s right; the film is successful in conveying to the viewer the characters’ dark, confused feelings that made suicide seem like an escape.  By the end of the film, Signe has shared that she is able to stay alive and sane each day by connecting with the people around her. Talking about difficult topics – including mental illness and suicide – can help make the feelings manageable, and this film brings those topics into view and also offers insight about what they feel like, a story of how they can be present in multiple generations of a family, and hope that people can survive the destructive impulses they feel.

Baumane has also said that animation isn’t only for children, and she’s right. Rocks in My Pockets isn’t for kids. Characters plot their suicides aloud, a rabbit’s throat is slit, and a character leaves his wife for his young secretary, once she attracts his attention by wearing a low-cut dress to work. The film might be too heavy or dark for some viewers.

Rocks in My Pockets could be helpful for professionals or other adults who want to develop empathy for the inner world and inner experience of people who struggle with depression, schizophrenia and suicidality.  It opened earlier this month in New York and Los Angeles. Screening locations and dates are listed at http://www.rocksinmypocketsmovie.com/Screenings.html

Questions for Discussion
What information might adoptees want to know about their birth families? Why is it important for them to have that information?

How comfortable are you talking with others about depression? About suicide? How can we create a culture where it is OK and not shameful to talk about these feelings?

Monday, September 15, 2014

New Poll Question

Help me know what you want to see reviewed on Adoption at the Movies!  There's a poll on the upper-right corner of the page (sorry, you might need to be at a computer; it's invisible on some mobile devices). What do you most want to see?

New movies? Older movies with strong adoption themes? Films for kids? Films for adults? Help shape Adoption at the Movies into what you want it to be!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Identical Adoption Movie Review

The Identical is the story of identical twins, secretly separated at birth. In 1935 Alabama, an out-of-work man and his wife become parents to twin boys. They are unsure how they can afford to parent both of them. That night, the father attends a church service where the preacher requests prayer for himself and his wife – for they have been unable to conceive. Believing God has provided an answer for both situations, the father suggests to the mother that they should give one of the boys to the preacher and his wife. Although the mother protests, she quickly agrees, and the next day, the preacher and his wife secretly take one of the boys to raise as their own. The boys are kept secret from each other; however, approximately two decades later, the boy raised by his parents has become Elvis Presley (in the movie, his name is Drexel Hemsley and he lives at a home named something similar-to-but-not-actually Graceland, and the songs aren’t actually Elvis songs, but, it’s basically Elvis.) Drexel’s missing brother, Ryan Wade, continues to be raised by the preacher and his wife, who anticipate him becoming a preacher. However, Ryan finds that he has a strong disposition to music, and his friends and neighbors can’t stop commenting on how much he looks and sounds like Drexel.

 How Does This Connect to Adoption?
The Identical is an adoption story. The actor who plays theadoptive father expressed that he took the role because he was adopted. But the Identical is a story of a secret adoption. The preacher and his wife have strong emotions of sorrow relating to their infertility, expressing “My wife and I miscarried again… Of all the gifts [that God gives, a baby] is the one we wanted most. All of our dreams were of having a baby, a family of our own, to love and take care of.” The father of the twin boys suggests that giving away one of his sons is the only option, “There is no work. They’ll take [the boys] away if something happens.” Their mother protests, “I’m not giving away my babies,” but the parents ultimately decide “We could make it with one.” Initially, the preacher and his wife decline the couple’s offer, but the father of the boys explains, “It’s God we’re really giving him to; it’s what the Lord wants. We both know it.” Eventually all parties agree, and the preacher’s wife promises the boys’ mother, “I’ll love him good, for both of us.” Before the preacher leaves, the boys’ father makes him swear that this will be a secret from both boys until both birth parents die. The next day, Drexel’s parents hold a funeral for Ryan, burying a small box that, known only to them, is empty. 
Years later, in a moment of crisis, Ryan learns the whole truth of his story. His adoptive father apologizes for the secrecy. Ryan forgives him, and embraces both fathers as his own. However, he was tragically close to his birth brother and birth mother, but never realized their relation to him until after their deaths.

Strong Points
Ryan’s father, the preacher, shows strong love for Ryan, even when Ryan is in trouble with the law. He explains, “You are my son, and I love you more than you’ll ever know, but it’s time for you to grow up and be a man.”
The Identical serves as an example of how some traits are passed genetically – Ryan looks, sounds, and thinks like Drexel. In fact, Ryan becomes “The Identical,” and is paid to perform in the style of his brother.

It’s particularly sad that Ryan comes within feet of both his brother and birthmother, without realizing who they are. They both die before he can build relationships with them. Ryan’s wife retrospectively notes that when his birthmother died, “something inside of Ryan died, too.”

Ryan and his wife struggle with infertility; a doctor has told them that they will “never have one of these precious gifts.” This is particularly sad because Ryan’s wife works as a nurse in a maternity ward. However, they become pregnant by the end of the film.

One character suggests that Ryan should be told the truth, because “the truth will set you free.”

Ryan sees his father have a heart attack, and feels guilty because the heart attack came in the middle of an argument. While searching for pills to help save his father’s life, Ryan discovers the letter his birthparents had written for him, to be given to him after their deaths. The letter tells Ryan that it is “time for you to know who you are,” it affirms that his parents love him, it asks for forgiveness, and tells him “we’ll see you in Heaven.” When Ryan’s father learns that Ryan found the letter, he weeps bitterly from the pain of secrecy. Ryan chooses not to see him in the hospital, but instead seeks out his birthfather.  He finds his birthfather at the family gravesites. His birthfather is weeping, mourning the fact that he is unforgiven for giving away his son, and he is overjoyed to finally and unexpectedly be reunited with his son. Ryan then returns to his father the preacher, and tells him “Thank you, and I mean thank you, for everything, and I mean everything.” Ryan’s adoptive father affirms, “You are my son, and you are more than I ever dared pray for.” And just like that, everything is seemingly OK. Ryan continues to perform as a Drexel lookalike without ever publically revealing his family connection. By the end of the film, secrecy has developed into confidentiality, which is healthier. In addition, we see the strong pain caused by secrecy, as both fathers grieve. However, the film doesn’t seem to explore the pain that Ryan would feel about having this secret kept from him. He just kind of gets over it. And that doesn’t seem so realistic.

Weak Points
Secrecy surrounding Ryan’s adoption is profoundly present. His adoptive parents try to hide the truth from him, even though it pains them to do so. When Ryan does learn the truth, he seems unrealistically undevastated; his recovery seems far more quick and complete than I’d expect.

The Identical might be a fun trip down memory lane for Elvis fans, and it invites viewers to return to the music and culture of yesteryear. It also returns viewers to the prevailing adoption thought of the 50’s. Unfortunately, that was probably the worst time period for adoptee rights. Adoptions were historically public knowledge, and didn’t become confidential from the public (in the United States) until the late 1910’s when a Minnesota law made adoption confidential from the public. By the end of World War II, though, the standard for adoption had morphed from confidentiality to secrecy. That was not left unchallenged for long – in the 1970’s, the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association started advocating for an opening of sealed records, and the fight continues to this day. It’s a small window of time, maybe 20 years, where sealed and secret adoptions were the unquestioned order of the day, but many folks assume that that’s how things have always been. The Identical brings viewers back to that time, but also shows, to some extent, the pain caused by secrecy. The Identical could be an interesting way to reexamine the time period where adoptions were very secretive, and could inspire viewers to continue questioning secrecy in adoption. Recommended for adults.  (Read More on the history of Openness in Adoption)

Questions for Discussion
How did the adoption of Ryan impact each character: Ryan, the preacher, the preacher’s wife, Drexel, Drexel’s mother, and Drexel’s father?

How did the secrecy in the adoption impact each character?

What appeal does secrecy have, even today, in adoption? What harm might it cause?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sesame Street: Gina Adopts a Baby - Adoption TV Review

A few years back, Sesame Street ran a three-episode series on adoption. The episodes, in Season 37, are entitled “Gina Adopts a Baby” parts 1, 2, and 3, and are available for free viewing on Amazon Prime. It's available on Netflix streaming, too.

Gina, a veterinarian, has decided to adopt a baby from Guatemala. The first episode visits her prior to her departure. She reflects on meeting her baby for the first time. Over the story arc, Gina shares about adoption with curious Sesame Street characters, travels to Guatemala with Maria (a friend who will translate for her), and returns back to Sesame Street with baby Marco. Upon her return, Gina’s friends are effusively welcoming, but she is able to express the need for some quiet time. As the last of her friends bids her goodbye, Gina is finally alone with Marco and is able to breathe.

How Does This Connect to Adoption?
The episodes very directly connects to adoption. Gina explains adoption to her Sesame Street friends, and then adopts Marco.  Elmo asks Gina, “What does adoption mean?” Gina explains, “It’s something very, very special. A baby, a little boy, needs someone to love him and take care of him. I want to be that person so I’ll adopt him and become his mom. He’ll come live here on Sesame Street and we’ll be a family.” The episodes provide an adopting parent’s-eye-view of adoption. After bringing Marco home, Gina reflects on her experience, “Mommy… that’s me. I can’t believe it. I’m your mommy now. I’m the person I’ve always been, but not just me. I’m your mommy now, and I’ll do everything a mommy needs to do – feed you and hold you, and together we’ll be a family.”

Strong Points
The show reaffirms the value of asking questions. It’s healthiest when kids are allowed to ask – and receive answers to – the questions on their minds.
Gina is surrounded by very supportive friends, and is able to express her needs to them as well.
Gina hopes to have Marco speak both Spanish and English.
One song portrays a positive, inclusive definition of family, “It doesn’t matter who you’re living with. If it’s love, you’re a family, living together and loving each other.”
Another song highlights a positive attitude of the friends of the new adoptive family, “We’ll make him feel at home because he’s coming to stay.”

It’s not certain that Gina’s learned any Spanish yet.
Because Marco is pre-verbal, the focus of the episode is firmly on Gina and her friends. I think the episode is intended to help young children understand adoption; it will probably do that, but it might have been nice had the adoptee been a bit older, and able to speak first-person.
Once in song and once in dialogue, Gina expresses that she and Marco were “meant for” each other. She means to express her love for Marco and her happiness about the adoption, and her intention to parent him. However, saying that the adoption was basically fated to be seems to be discounting of Marco’s birthparents. Speaking of…

Weak Points
There is no mention of Marco’s birth parents.

spoiler alert: "yawn" starts with "y."
It’s Sesame Street. Each hour-long episode leads off with 15 or 20 minutes of Gina’s story, and then proceeds to 40 minutes of talking about words that start with the letter “Y,” so even though I’m writing about three, hour-long episodes, you could watch the whole story arc in just about an hour. At their core, the episodes strike me as a good first introduction to adoption. Kids learn from stories, and having these episodes be part of a young child’s viewing rotation can be part of the process of normalizing adoption. The episodes are not a thorough, complete picture of adoption, but they do present a good place for kids to start learning about it. Think about watching this episode with your kids, 2-6.
Gina and Marco are surrounded by friends.

Questions for Discussion

Why did Gina want to adopt a baby?

What will Gina do for the baby?

How did Gina’s friends feel about her adoption of Marco?
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