Two Thumbs Up For "Adopted"

Tonight Katrina and I watched the movie "Adopted," a documentary that depicted two journeys — a family's adoption of a little girl from China, and an adult Korean adoptee's attempt to confront her feelings about being adopted and to get her parents to understand and acknowledge them. We thought it was great — painful, but great — and highly recommend it to anyone interested in international adoption issues, which I write about here occasionally.

The movie's strength lies in comfort with contrasting views of adoption, and ultimately with its comfort with ambiguity. The adult adoptee is deeply troubled, and growing up in an all-white community without any familial understanding of the impact of her ethnicity has wounded her, perhaps irrevocably. But she's also shown to be utterly devoted to her parents and her patient, supportive brother — her alienation does not prevent her from loving them. The adoption of the little girl is depicted as joyous, and she's clearly immediately well-attached to her parents — and yet her mother is openly tormented with the idea that her joy comes at the inevitable expense of a long-term sense of loss in her daughter. Barb Lee — who I learned is a first-time director, much to my surprise — does not attempt to tell an easy story; she offers neither the popular view that international adoption is an unqualified good, nor the criticism that it is intrinsically bad. She clearly thinks that, like people, it's messy and complicated — which it is.

I also liked how Lee used cinematic techniques to convey feelings and messages with a level of facility I don't often see in documentaries. The scene in which the young couple meets their little girl for the first time in a drab government building in China is brilliant precisely because Lee used such a sparing touch in editing it. Her choice to leave in the chaotic camera movements, the nearly unendurable echoing din of babies crying and new parents anxiously trying to soothe them, and the raw chaos of the moment was uncannily familiar to us and evocative of the dislocation and loss that moment represents.

It's a good movie, but not an easy movie, for adoptive parents to watch. Lee shows powerfully how the adult adoptee's parents lack the language to respond to their daughter's feelings and questions. But she doesn't let the daughter off the hook, either. It's ultimately a very human story, showing fallible people trying with love and the best of intentions to connect, and not always succeeding.

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  1. LJ Taylor says

    I have a good friend, of Korean ethnicity, who was adopted by Caucasian parents. Out of curiosity one day, I asked him if he ever faced any difficulties because of this, and he said it was never an issue with him. He spoke without hesitation of how much he loved his parents and was happy to have grown up in a nice boring suburb. He stated that it was Asian kids who gave him the most grief by trying to convince him that he was not really "Korean", because he didn't grow up in that specific culture.

    He's a great guy and a father of two awesome kids. I'd hate to think what the outcome would have been, had he not been raised in a loving home.

    Thanks for the info on the documentary. I know many people who have adopted and I'll pass it along…

  2. says

    Earlier this week I had the honor to watch the movie and participate in a post-film discussion with the filmaker Barb Lee and Nancy Kim Parsons (co-producer) along with a group of fellow adult adoptees. Many of the same observations that you noted came up in our discussion and even though I had seen it before, it was interesting for me to see how certain parts of the movie evoked a heightened or lessened reaction from me this time – which to me speaks to how the journey related to one's adoption constantly remains a fluid one and not ever easily defined.

    It's also very fascinating for me to know that there can be such antithetical interpretations for what I believe is a very straight forward point-on message – I'm referring to the scene where the adoptive parents see and receive their daughter. To me, it is like watching a death unfold and yet for others, I know it is like witnessing a birth.

  3. Doug says

    As the father of a little boy adopted from China, I know that my wife and I face certain challenges related to his birth place. Some people have questioned his memory of his life in China, but we believe that even when we adopted him at 2 years of age, he retains these memories. We wonder what he will feel in 10 years about his adoption. We we feel abandoned by his birth parents? Will he become angry at us for the adoption? Fortunately, we live in a county in which there are many opportunities to see and interact with people who "look like him" (my son's words, not mine). He also has two slightly older sisters that he loves to play with (ie. tease). All of this really has nothing to do with the documentary. But, maybe I will see it. Thanks for letting me post.

  4. says

    (I'm not an adoptive parent; I got my kids the lazy way.) While I agree with my adoptive parent friends that there's nothing particularly heroic about raising an adopted kid, it seems from this remove that there's something at least a little about signing up for the almost endless paperwork and red tape (and, alas, potential heartbreak) between the decision to become a parent and the, err, delivery.