Monday, September 9, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: Secondhand Lions

Walter is used to being lied to. He’s accustomed to being left alone. His mother, Mae, is consistently entering new relationships with men and leaving him to fend for himself. This year Mae has decided to go to Las Vegas with Stan. She leaves Walter with two great-uncles, Hub and Garth. Walter has never met his great-uncles, but Mae leaves him with them anyway. She lets Walter know that Hub and Garth are supposedly quite rich; Walter understands that he’s supposed to get them to like him so that they’ll leave their fortune to him. And so, Walter finds himself being cared for by two cranky old men – but they become softer, and he comes to love them.

The Adoption Connection
Many of the adoptions I’ve worked with are relative adoptions. In some cases, a child has been removed from their parents but placed with grandparents. In other cases, a child was left to be raised by grandparents or great-aunts or second-cousins or even friends-that-are-like-family. For those kids, Walter’s experience of being transplanted into the home of distant relatives will probably seem quite familiar.

Strong Points
The circumstances that lead Walter to Hub and Garth are painful, and his initial reception isn’t good (they say, “The last thing we need is some little sissy boy hanging around.”) But Hub, Garth, and Walter quickly warm to each other. In the end, Walter pleads with his mother to let him live with Hub and Garth – and
they do choose to raise him.  

Even though he is gruff, Hub gives a “what every boy needs to know about how to be a man speech,” which is meaningful to many. Through remembered history and through current life actions, we see that even though Hub is very bristly, he genuinely cares about people. He seems particularly concerned with helping boys learn how to be responsible adults. Hub could be an interesting hero for children who have had difficulty connecting with men. Hub shows how someone can be both tough and kind.

Hub’s speech is pretty positive. “People are mostly good. Honor, courage and virtue mean everything. Power and money are worth nothing. Good triumphs over evil. True love never dies.”

Walter is able to express his need for belonging to Hub, and Hub receives it and responds well.

Walter overhears the conversation where his mother tries to pass him off to his great-uncles. This might remind children of painful memories of overheard conversations.

One of Walter’s relatives fears that Walter will get his great-uncles’ money. In an effort to get the money for herself, the relative urges Hub and Garth to “take him to the orphanage right this minute.” Walter explains that he has been in the orphan home before. One of his uncles replies, “It ain’t our fault you got a lousy damn mother.”

Walter’s mother and her new boyfriend try to sabotage Walter’s stable home.  Walter’s mother finally hears his pleas to be left alone, and she listens. The attempts at sabotage do parallel some kids’ experiences in foster care;  but they also parallel the interpretation that some foster parents apply to their kids’ experiences in foster care. In Secondhand Lions, the best thing Mae could do for Walter was to let him go. It’s important to realize that, for kids in foster care, often the best thing their parents can do is to try to reunify. Trying for reunification should not be framed as trying to sabotage a successful foster care placement, and foster parents should be careful not to “wish the birth family would just go away.” On the flip side, there are some situations where a child would be endangered by returning to their family of origin. For kids in that circumstance, Walter’s plea to stay with Hub and Garth might be poignant. Walter’s words are emotionally gripping, “Mom, do something for me for once. Do something that’s best for me.”  It’s up to you as the parent to help your kid apply this scene correctly.
Hub and Garth suggest that Mae might sell Walter to them. It’s said as a joke, but it might concern some kids.

Hub and Garth do die by the end of the film. The film presents death in a positive light, but it could be very sad for some kids who’ve already experienced the loss of a primary caregiver. They might also find healing, though, in seeing a grown Walter at peace with their death.

I think this film deserves a pretty high recommendation. The relationship built between Walter, Garth, and Hub is surprisingly healthy. The film also approaches death in a healthy and meaningful way. It also is pretty relevant to grandparent adoption or extended family placement. I can see it being helpful on several levels.

Some Questions for Discussion
Which parents/grandparents have been hard for you to feel close to? Did it ever get better?

Which older relatives or older family friends do you feel the closest to?

Have you ever been lied to by an adult?

What do you want to be like when you’re a young adult? Middle aged? A senior citizen?

1 comment:

  1. SO glad you reviewed this film. It's a favorite of mine. Great themes and something to learn throughout. Despite it's difficult subject matter, it is digestable by most. I'm really excited to see what the new musical (based on the film) is like in Seattle this weekend!


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