Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: December Boys

What defines family? 

  Do we expect children to forget their first family once they’re adopted?

At a Catholic orphanage in Australia, four boys have bonded together . It happened almost naturally; the orphanage groups children together by the month of their birth, and so Maps, Spark, Spit, and Misty have celebrated their birthdays jointly for years. They are the December boys. As a special birthday present, the boys are sent to spend some time with an elderly couple in a beach town. Although they had given up hope of being adopted, their hope is rekindled by their time with the family and reignited when Misty overhears a neighbor express his desire to adopt one of the boys. Three of the boys strive to seem “most adoptable,” and the oldest boy expresses a lack of interest. In the end, Misty is chosen by the neighbors but decides to remain with the other December Boys.

How is This Relevant to Adoption? 
December Boys has lots of relevance to adoption. Children at an orphanage desire to be adopted, and are discouraged when other children are chosen instead. The December boys thrive when they’re able to stay with a loving family. Some children become so discouraged that they give up hope of being adopted. Meanwhile, a family struggling with infertility wrestles with the decision of whether to pursue adoption. And ultimately, one of the children is forced to decide on his personal definition of family.

Misty initially defined adoption as “the constant belief that somehow I’d be saved [from the orphanage, into a family].” By the end of the film, he declines an opportunity to be adopted in favor of staying with his lifelong friends. He explains to the prospective adoptive parents, “I already have a family.”

The Open Adoption Blog Hop asks for a favorite quote. For adoption quotes, Misty's "I already have a family" is right up there. Adoption adds to a child's family, rather than replacing it.

Strong Points

December Boys lends itself to introspection; ti provides windows into the emotions of many of its characters, including two of the December boys and a couple frustrated with their infertility.


This film is emotionally powerful; it could be helpful or harmful depending on the needs of the viewer. Some of the most poignant scenes:

A priest and a local man are discussing the boys’ situation. They affirm, “An orphanage isn’t the same as a family... There’s no substitute for a family.”  The priest suggests to the man that people who are “desperate for children” should look at the children who are “desperate for home.” I appreciate the priest’s suggestion – there are many older children in foster care who want to be adopted. This movie throws an interesting curve. Misty falls in love with the thought of being adopted. He thinks about hiding his feelings from his friends, he imagines calling someone “Dad,” and draws a picture of himself with his desired parents. Eventually, though, Misty decides that his friends from the orphanage are already his family. He ultimately chooses to stay with them rather than be adopted.

The oldest boy has given up on being adopted, and asks in resignation, “What’s the big deal about parents, anyway?” When his heart is broken by his girlfriend leaving, he also asks his younger friends, “Do you think being adopted is going to fix anything? You don’t get it. Everyone leaves.”

A scene in the beginning of the film shows children at the orphanage standing in a line to be selected by adoptive parents. One boy is chosen, and walks away, smiling, hand-in-hand with his new parent. The other boys are rejected and disappointed. In another uncomfortable scene, the December Boys are assembled, and the prospective adoptive parents dramatically announce that, although all four boys are wonderful, they are only able to adopt Misty. These could be particularly emotional scenes for children who have experienced rejection or disrupted foster or adoptive placements.

The elderly woman with whom the boys have been staying has breast cancer. In a frightening scene, the boys believe she is dead and try to touch her. She grabs their hand, and asks them to pray with her.

In a challenging scene, one of the boys learns that the man who wants to adopt one of them has been lying about some of his identity (the boys believed he was a daredevil bike rider; he actually has a less-impressive job.) The boy strikes the man; later, the man finds the boy and explains himself.

Weak Points

Although the movie is set several decades ago, the portrayal of adoption as a quickly-completed process is no longer accurate.

The movie is a coming-of-age drama, and wouldn’t interest kids much younger than 13 or 14. Some parents may not want their teenagers to be exposed to some scenes in the movie; there is underage use of tobacco and alcohol, the oldest boy (around 17) loses his virginity to a girl of a similar age, and the boys voyeuristically watch a 30-something woman undressing. Two boys nearly drown.


December Boys is a powerfully emotional movie. It might be too powerful for most kids, but for some kids around age 14 and up, it could invite conversation about emotions. It would be challenging but excellent viewing for adoptive parents or couples considering adoption.

Questions for Discussion after the movie
If you watched it as a family – questions to discuss together:

What defines a family?

Who do we consider family that doesn’t live with us? Is that list the same for each family member here?

Do you think Misty would have chosen to be adopted if the other boys could have been adopted with him?

What parts of the movie felt the most real to you?

How does adoption change your life? Your outlook on the world?

Questions for adults considering adoption:

Fearless and Theresa struggled with infertility. One blamed the other for infertility, and for a while they were in disagreement about whether to pursue adoption.   If infertility is a part of why you’re considering adoption, have you talked with each other about your feelings about infertility? Have you reached a peace, or is there anger or bitterness between you?   

Are you in agreement about your plans to adopt?  On a scale of 1-10, how invested are each of you?

Misty’s sense of connection to the December Boys was so strong that he chose to stay with them rather than to leave them in favor of an adoptive family. Do you think he would have chosen to be adopted if all three others boys could have been adopted with him? What are your expectations of children’s emotional ties?

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You might also enjoy these Adoption Movie Guides which deal with defining family:

Adoption Movie Guide: Tarzan

Adoption Movie Guide: Tarzan 2

Adoption Movie Guide: The Tigger Movie

Adoption Movie Guide: Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2


  1. I am going to have to check out some of the adoption movies you mention in your blog.

  2. Hi Melinda! Welcome! I'd love to know if any of them turn into new favorites for you :) And, if you know some that I should review, I'd love to hear :)

  3. I have never heard of this movie. I'm going to have to check it out.

    1. I hadn't heard of this one either until I started looking for adoption movies. But it was one of the most relevant ones I've found!

  4. This sounds like a really interesting movie Addison - I'd also never heard of it. I'll bet the backdrop of Australia is also interesting.

    1. It was a much more interesting movie than I'd expected; and it sure is beautiful there!


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