Friday, December 14, 2012

Adoption Movie Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Benjamin Button was born very small, but showing many signs of old age. As he ages in reverse, his life frequently intertwines with that of Daisy. They have a daughter together. After living 85 years or so, Benjamin dies in her arms as an infant.

The Adoption Connection
Benjamin Button has several opportunities to be a valuable adoption movie, but it doesn't make the best of them. Benjamin’s father, Thomas, abandons Benjamin on the steps of an elder care facility. Queenie, a caretaker there, raises Benjamin as her son. Thomas later meets and pursues a relationship with Benjamin, but Benjamin only learns that Thomas is his father after much time has passed.

Benjamin has a daughter but fears that he will be unable to care for her because of his impending youth. He leaves before she is a year old. Mirroring his father’s actions, Benjamin seeks out his daughter years later. He meets her briefly, but does not reveal that he is her father. Benjamin’s daughter only learns the truth much later; Benjamin has died and Daisy has his diary. On her deathbed, Daisy asks her daughter to read from the diary; while reading from the diary, the daughter learns that Benjamin was her father.

Strong Points
è Benjamin Button is one of the very few films to show a cross-cultural adoption-type relationship where the parent is Black and the child is White. There should be more movies like this.
è Queenie affirms that Benjamin deserves love and care because he is a child of God. It is implied that all babies deserve care just because they are children of God. This affirmation is perhaps the brightest ray of hope in the film.
è Benjamin affirms that Queenie is his mother. He also names his daughter Caroline, after his first mother.

è Benjamin expresses, “You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went. You could swear, curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go.” Benjamin later forgets much of his life due to dementia, and is told, “It’s OK to forget things.” It’s true that adoptees, children in foster care, and many children who have experienced trauma ultimately do learn to thrive. They don’t likely forget, though. Benjamin’s quote seems to downplay the necessity of grieving and processing. “Just shake it off” isn't the healthiest way to deal with loss, abandonment, and neglect. A better prescription is, “Process it. Talk about it with someone. Pray. Reflect. Learn. Heal. Grow.”

Weak Points
è Benjamin was abandoned by his father. Later, his father’s is driven by guilt or curiosity and finds Benjamin. He does not reveal his relation to Benjamin (at least, not for a long time). Benjamin repeats this pattern with his own daughter. Daisy encourages Benjamin to keep silent about being Caroline’s father.
è We are shown the moments when Benjamin, and later Caroline, learn who their fathers are. Both react with anger, but both recover far more quickly than seems realistic.
è Benjamin is born with a mysterious medical condition which makes him look small, but otherwise very old. The initial reactions to him are traumatizingly negative: a priest makes the sign of the cross; his father stands by the river apparently contemplating killing Benjamin; his father abandons him on a darkened staircase; he is called ugly; Queenie’s husband implies that Benjamin may not be intended by God to survive; an onlooker suggests that Benjamin might not even be human. Years later, Benjamin’s father confesses to Benjamin, “I thought you were a monster.”
è The PG-13 rating suggests that there are scenes that aren't good for young viewers. Beyond sex scenes and brothel scenes, though, there are many scenes that could be traumatizing. There is violence and gunfire. Queenie dies and is shown in her casket.  

Some Recommendations
è This isn't a good choice for an adoption movie. The violence and sex scenes in the film make it inappropriate for younger children. Older children may still be traumatized by the negative attitudes shown towards Benjamin and the repeated themes of abandonment. The film seems to imply that painful experiences should just be accepted and forgotten, and this is unhelpful advice for children who've experienced trauma.

Questions for Discussion after the movie

è For Foster/Adoptive Parents
o   Do you know what trauma your child has experienced? Many children are unable to talk about it, or try to forget it. Where is your child in the healing process?
o   Why did Thomas seek out Benjamin? Why did Benjamin seek out Caroline?
o   Caroline learned that Benjamin was her father after 40 years or so of believing otherwise. Why is it important that she learned the truth?
o   Do you think her reaction was realistic?

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You might also be interested in:

 Adoption Movie Review of Superman: The Movie


  1. I thought that Benjamin's mother was a great adoptive mother, and accepted him as her own, despite his medical issues. I don't really remember much about the movie, other than that it was long and boring, but I remember the mom.

  2. I thought she was great, too. And the movie did take me about 4 hours to get through. I took breaks :)


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