by Addison Cooper, LCSW
In November, Lion was released to mainstream U.S. audiences. Lion is the film based on the life story of Saroo Brierley, a young man who was adopted from a Calcutta, India, orphanage by a family from Tasmania, Australia. Twenty years after his adoption, Saroo began to remember elements of his past. He was not from Calcutta, but actually from a small village far from there. Although he was happy and thriving in his adoptive family, he remembered his older brother Guddu and his mother, and he became convinced that they must be in grief because they were separated from him.
Through the use of Google Maps, Saroo was able to access his own memory and find the village of his childhood. With the blessing of his adoptive family, Saroo traveled there in hopes of finding his mother.
Lion is a powerful film. It’s engaging and gripping. It will draw some tears. It’s also remarkably healthy from an adoption perspective. Some families touched by adoption have the unfortunate position of expecting children to only claim the adoptive family as their family. Even in families in which that is not the expectation, if conversations are not had about a child’s connection to the birth family, adopted children might feel as though they are not free to desire connection with the birth family. Saroo explained to his adoptive mother that he had hid his search for his birth mother from her because he did not want to be thought ungrateful.
Lion is such a wonderful film because it captures a healthy experience of search and reunion in adoption. Saroo finds his birth mother, and in finding her, he finds the answers to all of the questions that had been unanswered. His birth mother is overjoyed to know that he is well. She has never stopped looking for him and hoping for his return, and she acknowledges that his adoptive parents are his family. His adoptive parents are glad to know that he has found what he is looking for, and Saroo affirms that finding his birth mother does not change their role in his life. He has not had to choose between two families. They are both part of his life, and he needs both of them.
Lion responsibly portrays a very important but complicated aspect of adoption. As an adoption social worker, I want the families I work with to see this film. It’s engaging and palatable as entertainment, but it also provides a way to help families connect emotionally with a crucial but sometimes hard-to-accept truth about adoption—that they will not be the only family that is important to a child, and that the lack of exclusivity does not make them any less important to the child. The film captures and conveys that truth in a way that lessons or trainings or conversations might not.
Families can also share this film with their teenagers as a way to establish an environment in which it is safe to talk about this aspect of adoption. Sharing the film can serve as an opening to invite the child to talk about these feelings. It might also help the conversations get started. Families might find talking about characters in the film and how the characters felt to be easier and less intimidating than talking about their own feelings.
What are the issues that your clients face? What films have you seen that are positive, powerful, and relevant to them? Which films do you imagine that you can use as tools in your work?
Addison Cooper, LCSW, is the founder of Adoption at the Movies (www.AdoptionAtTheMovies.com). His new book, Adoption at the Movies, is now available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.