During the long airplane journey between Hong Kong and San Francisco, I watched three movies on the in-flight personal video system.
In the first, Martian Child, a troubled young orphan, Dennis, deals with abandonment issues by pretending to be from another planet. David, a Sci-Fi writer who decides to become a foster parent, picks up Dennis from the local children’s home. They soon form a special bond, overcome the pains of the past, and become a family.
The second, August Rush, tells the story of a musically-gifted 11 year-old boy, Evan, who runs away from his orphanage on a quest to find his parents, who don’t even know he’s alive. Music brings them together as events orchestrate to bring harmony and completion.
The third, Juno, concerns a high school teenager who, upon learning she is pregnant, decides to give her baby up for adoption to a couple she finds in the Pennysaver. Despite difficulties regarding the target adoptees, an inopportune child becomes the blessing of a mother who had long yearned for him.
Within hours of being home, I was tasked with watching my children as Lisa attended a baby shower for our imminent new arrival. I joined my kiddos downstairs while they were glued to Lilo & Stitch, an animated movie on the Disney Channel. A young Hawaiian orphan girl, Lilo, adopts an unusual pet, Stitch, who turns out to be a lost and parentless alien. Trials and misadventures eventually shape them into a unique family.
At the movie’s completion, my children asked me to dial up a pre-recorded viewing of Meet the Robinsons, a story of a young orphan, Lewis, a 12 year-old genius who fails to get adopted because of his constant desire to recall a glimpse of his birth mother on the day of his abandonment. Lewis, along with his orphanage roommate, Goober, battle each other in the time continuum in a futuristic tale of realizing one’s worth, potential and, yes, family.
The final TV dose came in the form of a Batman episode where Bruce Wayne (aka the Caped Crusader) revisits "Crime Alley," the spot where his parents were shot to death by a thug when he was a young boy. The new orphan is comforted by a middle-aged lady, Leslie, who becomes a mother-figure to Bruce, and confidant regarding his secret identity.
None of this was planned.
Within a 24-hour period, I was exposed to six separate productions concerning orphans and adoption.
What’s more, I even had the chance to watch December Boys on the trans-Pacific flight also, a movie about four Australian orphaned boys who get the opportunity to leave their orphanage for a holiday trip to the beach during Christmastime. There, they experience many ‘firsts’ and are introduced to the possibility of adoption for one of the boys.
How did United Airlines’ March 2008 movie lineup come to include no less than four films concerning orphans and adoption? How did I then immediately stumble into three more broadcast stories about orphans upon my return home?
The fact is, we human beings have a deep fascination with the orphan archetype in film and literature.
I can think of over a dozen more examples, that have been translated into film, where the orphan becomes whole, or achieves the role of the champion, the superhero; where we elevate and celebrate the least among us.
The Superheroes: Spiderman, Batman, Superman – all orphans.
Major literary figures: Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Huckleberry Fin, Tom Sawyer, Jane Eyre, Heidi, Harry Potter, Quasimodo, Frodo Baggins, Rapunzel, Mowgli, Tarzan, King Arthur – all orphans.
The classic Disney characters: Bambi, Snow White, Cinderella – all orphans.
And my favorite orphan of the big screen – Luke Skywalker. Gotta love him. The dude rocks!
Is it our own sense of disconnection represented by these fictional characters…an innate need of the masses to be united with the Father of us all?
Is it our love of rooting for the underdog…a desire to see the lowliest overcoming great obstacles to find success and happiness?
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22-23)
Then he said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all – he is the greatest." (Luke 9:48)