Thursday, March 14, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: Oz the Great and Powerful

Oscar Diggs is a small-time magician working small-town circuses. He has visions of greatness, and is frustrated to be playing to such small audiences, for such small sums of money. Several women are interested in his magical persona, and one in particular is heartbroken at his lack of ability to commit. She explains that all she wants is for him to be a “good” man. He doesn’t want to be “good.” He wants to be “great.” He has his chance at greatness when a tornado takes him to the land of Oz. A prophecy there has foretold that a wizard would drop from the sky and save the land. Oscar is identified as the wizard. He accepts this title because of the honor and riches it involves, but later admits that he is no wizard. He eventually uses his illusions to save the land. He thanks Glinda the Good for believing in him; she explains, “I knew you had it in your all along.” Oscar asks, “Greatness?” Glinda replies, “No. Better than that. Goodness.”

What Does This Have To Do With Adoption?
Oscar is struggling with identity. A friend tells him, “You could be good, if you wanted to.” He explained, “I don’t want to. I don’t want to be a good man. I want to be a great man.”Most children and teenagers struggle to develop their identity. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests that identity development happens after more basic needs (survival, safety, love/belonging, and esteem) have been met. Kids who have not consistently experienced the fulfillment of their needs for safety, love or belonging, may find their task of self-actualization (or identity development) clouded. Instead of simply becoming “good” people, kids may feel the need to earn esteem or their place in their family by achieving things that will make them “great.”

Oscar’s arrival in Oz might mirror the arrival of adopted infants: they were long-hoped for. When they arrived, people expect great things from them. One Oz citizen told Oscar, “you’re going to fix everything.” Some couples have similar expectations of the infants they adopt.

One character wishes for her family back. She is ultimately given a new family. Oscar explains, “All I can offer you is us. I know it’s not the family you had in mind.” The character responds, “it’s perfect.”

Strong Points
When Oscar is endangered by a tornado, he prays a promise to change, saying “get me out of here, and I can do great things.” However, by the end of the film we see that he brought about change not only by what he did (great things) but by who he was (a good person.)

Oscar’s success as the wizard doesn’t depend on what he isn’t – it depends on what he is. A positive message from this film is, “you’re already good enough, and you already have what you need to be a good person. You just need to apply it.”

While the movie focuses on Oscar’s development, an interesting, secondary story is that of Theonora, who eventually becomes the famous, green, “Wicked Witch of the West.” At the beginning of the film, she is neutral. However, she is lied to by her sister, told that she is wicked, “deep down,” and mistreated by Oscar. Theonora turns evil specifically so that she will become “impenetrable” to emotional pain. Similar choices were made by Diana in Identity Thief, and by Magneto in X-Men: First Class.
Some adoptees who have been hurt by or through the adoption process view all adoptions as negative. Some people who experience loss find it difficult to attempt to make future connections. Some who experience pain seek to inflict pain on others. But some people overcome the pain and grief they experience and go on to thrive (Charles Xavier in X-Men; Po in Kung Fu Panda.) Deborah Silverstein and Sharon Roszia identified several core issues in adoption, and wrote that the central issue in adoption is “loss.” It’s experienced by everyone involved in an adoption. The experience of loss is pretty much inevitable; but what people can control is what that loss will mean in their life, and how it will shape their futures.

Weak Points
There are some frightening scenes. Oscar ends up in a rapids, and children may find the first-person camera angle a bit frightening. The movie features witches and magic, which might be scary to some young viewers. A character is threatened by a lion.  We learn that a father was poisoned, and are led to believe that he was poisoned by his own daughter.  There are some scary flying monkeys and other scary creatures.  Oscar lies to many women.

Oz the Great and Powerful is probably best geared to kids between the ages of 10-14. You’d guess lower because of the connection to the Wizard of Oz, but Oscar’s kind-of womanizing and some of the frightening scenes might make it a bad choice for younger kids. The messages, “you are good enough already” and “don’t let your pain rule your life.” are good messages for teens and pre-teens.

Questions to talk about together after the movie:
·         Glinda tells Oscar that “all good hearted souls” are able to get into her protected city. He is unsure if he will make it. Why did he get in? Do you think you would have made it in?
·         After Oscar makes it into the city (proving that he is a “good hearted soul”, Glinda tells him that she can see that he is “weak, selfish, slightly egotistical, and a fibber.” How can he be all of those things, and still be good?
·         Why did Theonora eat the apple?
·         How could “forgiveness” have changed Theonora’s life? She didn’t forgive Oscar – who suffered the most?

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  1. I want to see this movie - the wizard of oz from the view point of the wizard - sounds great! I thoroughly enjoy reading how you connect these films to adoption - you have some really wonderful insight!

    1. Thanks so much, Jody! It was a pretty enjoyable film, and it's always interesting to get a different point of view - I remember the "three little pigs from the wolf's point of view" when I was a kid...

      If you've seen Wicked (the musical), it also tells the story, but from the Wicked Witch's point of view. Definitely worthwhile!

  2. I had not thought of this, but it makes sense: "Oscar’s arrival in Oz might mirror the arrival of adopted infants: they were long-hoped for. When they arrived, people expect great things from them. One Oz citizen told Oscar, “you’re going to fix everything.” "

    Thanks also for the age range and the messages. Looks like this is one I'll take the kids to.

    1. Hey Lori! I'm so excited to know what you think of the movie (and what your kids think of it!)

  3. Finally watched this movie, I loved it, but contrary to your recommendations so did the three year old little girl I baby-sit. But then her favorite movie since she could tell you her favorite movie has been The Wizard of Oz. I didn't really think of it as an adoption related movie, but then I rarely do until I read your excellent reviews :)

    1. Hey Rachel! I'm so glad that you loved it - and hey, I'm glad the little girl liked it, too :)

      When I started out to do this site, I thought about reviewing movies with distinct adoption plotlines, but then I started to see some themes in movies that aren't really adoption related, which could still be relevant to families touched by adoption. Hope it's working :)


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