Three seemingly separate stories are woven together in Tim Kirkman’s 2005 film, Loggerheads. Mark is a young, homeless wanderer who is devoted to saving the Loggerhead turtles on Kure Beach. He enters a relationship with George, a motel owner, and is able to share about his history. Elsewhere an airport rental car agent named Grace is mourning the loss of her son to adoption, which occurred approximately 20 years ago. In the central town of Eden, a minister and his wife are worried when it appears that their new neighbors are a gay couple.
*Huge Spoiler Alert*
Mark is the son that Grace gave up to adoption, and he was adopted by the ministerial couple. He became estranged from them when they did not embrace his homosexuality. Mark is dying of AIDS. His adoptive father refuses to see him, and his adoptive mother, although ultimately willing to meet him, waits too long. However, Mark’s birthmother and adoptive mother do develop a relationship with each other after Mark’s death, and it seems that Mark’s birthmother also gets to know George. Through these relationships, they are able to find some healing.
How Does This Connect to Adoption and Foster Care?
Loggerheads is a relatively rare film in that it shares the points of view of members of three sides of an adoption – adoptee, birth family, and adoptive family.
Loggerheads shows that birthparents do not forget their children; Grace shared that she is always wondering who and where her son is; she wonders if a similar-aged stranger might be her son. The film shows the grief she still has at the loss – and the fact that the grief is exacerbated by a lack of communication between Grace and her mother. It shows the anger and hurt that Grace still feels about the powerlessness she felt at the time; Grace asserts that the adoption was not her own choice. It shows the frustration that is caused when governmental officials refuse to release Mark’s records to Grace. It also shows some healing that occurs when Grace and her mother finally clear the air.
The film suggests that openness can be established and benefitted from, even after years of an adoption being closed. When Mark’s adoptive mother and birthmother walk together, they acknowledge the fear they felt, and each affirmed the other’s role in Mark’s life.
Loggerheads captures the pain felt by – and perhaps caused by – people touched by adoption, but in doing so, it sometimes feels to lean heavily against the adoptive parents and the church. In its portrayal of pain being felt and caused, it may cause pain to some viewers whose stories too closely mirror the story in the film. If there is a villain in the film, it is Mark’s adoptive father. The minister is unfailingly judgmental, two-faced, and unforgiving. This may be an accurate depiction of how ministers are perceived by some, but the character does seem to fulfill several unkind stereotypes. Mark acknowledges that he has had to trade sex for lodging and gifts. For some viewers who have been abused, this might come close to painfully mirroring their own experiences. Perhaps because he is on bad terms with his adoptive parents, Mark describes them as “not my real parents.” He acknowledges his longstanding fear that he would be sent back to his orphanage. The governmental official who denies Grace access to Mark’s adoption records tells her that the confidentiality policy is intended to protect the adoptive family from Grace. This hurts Grace, and I could imagine it being painful for some viewers, too. The adoption searching agent who helps Grace find Mark does so because she believes that “people have a right to know who they are and where they came from,” but also charges Grace a very high fee to help her. Mark’s boyfriend George has also felt pain; he believes that his previous boyfriend was murdered. Mark and Grace have each attempted to find each other, but were unable to do so because of laws.
I found a conversation between Grace and her mother especially poignant. They are discussing Grace’s desire to find Mark. Her mother worries, “I don’t understand why you want to do this.” Grace replies that it’s “not a want; it’s a need. I want to know he’s OK.” Her mother asks, “What if he doesn’t need this.” Grace breaks down, “Mom, you’re ashamed of me.” Her mother asks, “Will searching solve anything?” Grace replies, “This might stop me from attempting suicide again.” Loggerheads certainly portrays some strongly-felt emotions. Later on, Grace’s mother returns to Grace and says, “I’m not ashamed of you. I’ve never been ashamed of you. You’re my daughter, and I love you, and of course I think about him; he’s my grandson.” Grace’s mother asks, “What are you going to say when he asks why you gave him away?” Grace answers simply, “The truth.”
One camera shot lingers on the penis of a statue.
Mark’s father refuses to see him. When he learns from his wife that Mark is dying of AIDS, he refuses to see Mark, and his only response is, “God punishes. Mark made his choice.” Mark remembers his father as a man who was “mad, yelling, and said I’d burn in hell.”
Loggerheads deals with some of the same issues as Philomena. In both films, a birthmother seeks her long-ago-adopted son, and finds him too late. Either film could help adoptive and prospective adoptive parents start to see adoption through the eyes of a birthparent, and could hopefully be helpful in developing empathy. Birthfamily members might find this film painful or healing; Grace does heal, but her pain is profound. The film does portray a “worst case” scenario for an adoptive family, which might be worrying to people who do not know how their child is doing, after adoption. That anxiety, coupled with the pain felt by many characters in this film, lead me to see this film as a strong example of why openness is needed in adoption. The weight and sadness of the film make it best suited to an adult audience, and even adult viewers should be aware that the film might have some trigger potential.
Questions for Discussion
What fears might an adoptive parent have about her son’s birth parents?
What fears might a birthmother or birthfather have about their child’s adoptive parents?
The film’s portrayals of the government, the church, the adoptive father, and Grace’s mother all seem to be largely negative. Are these realistic, or are they more caricatures?