NOWHERE BOY: Open Adoption and Autonomy

NOWHERE BOY is a coming of age story about triumph over destructive losses to find wholeness and direction for a young man.  His is the story not of an icon so much as a typical example of changes of thinking that hallmark a generation. This is an ordinary story, of an ordinarily confused adolescent, seeking to clarify those things which constitute acting in his own best self-interest.  In bioethics, such self-interest is serviced by respect for the principle of autonomy.  The fact that the young man is John Lennon, is in a way incidental. Skilled documentary filmmaker cum fiction director, Sam Taylor-Wood, convincingly argues it is the boy’s tough process that made the creative "John Lennon.”

In the story, John has been adopted by an aunt and uncle. He has grown up without knowing his birth mother or father. The death of his uncle, whom he adored, catalyzes waves of desire to connect the dots between sketchy early childhood memories and his current reality.  He needs to know his birth parents. Denial of this need causes rebellious actions, expulsion from school and other attempts at individuation. This film is an infinitely more subtle handling of ethical issues around adoption than the strong but comedic film THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (Cholodenko, 2010).

Most of the last century, the norm in adoption was to protect the unenlightened self-interest of involved adults through closed adoption. In closed adoption children have no contact with birth parents once adopted. The unadoptable were institutionalized or placed in foster care, as illustrated in CIDER HOUSE RULES. (Hailstrom, 2000).  Modern physician’s ethical consultation around pregnancy is supposed to explore all medically indicated options; birth with rearing, birth with adoption, and abortion.  Through Matt Greenhalg's script craft and deftly delivered performances by Kristin Scott Thomas, David Threlfall, Josh Bolt, and Ophelia Lovibond, ethical conflicts between these options are expressed through characters.  For instance, John's Aunt Mimi initially is the embodiment of the approach of closed adoption.

In the past 25 years, coinciding with the bioethics of protection of the rights of vulnerable persons, the rights of adopted children and birth mothers relinquishing children under duress are more fully being considered. In NOWHERE BOY, both adolescent John and his mother, a manic depressive scarred from the burdens of relinquishing her son, are both vulnerable persons In the case of adopted and foster children, the rearing parents are the guardians of those children's autonomous rights. Mimi acts as proxy for John. There has been an inherent ethical conflict for the rearing parents in the face of little scientific information about the developmental outcomes of children in closed adoption.  The demands of adopted children led to legal remedies which allowed for adoptions to be opened and outcomes to be evaluated. Along with his creative talent, John Lennon’s genius may have included his demanding open adoption for himself forty years before those legal challenges occurred.

With the expanded knowledge of outcomes in different forms of adoption come opportunities for individual and societal moral growth. The bioethical principle of beneficence is the obligation to do good with knowledge.  What we have learned from open adoption is related to acceptance or rejection of differences between biological and adoptive parenthood. Virtually all researchers currently agree: insistence that biological and adoptive parenthood are the same leaves adoptive children with no venue to express grief, anger, or fears about abandonment and rejection from either parent.  If parents are unreceptive to the needs of their children to express how they feel, then loss of self-esteem has been observed. John lost self-esteem when his aunt was unable to allow him to express grief around his uncle's death or his mother's rejection.

John’s relationship with his aunt is in contrast to the one with his mother. John's access to his birth mother, who loves music and teaches him in turn to play an instrument, provides him with a tool for self-expression.  John's passion for expression eventually enables his birth mother and his rearing mother, who are sisters, to complete developmental tasks in their own relationship.  It bears stating that the lyrical, visual and narrative demonstration of John's passion for music, and his process of creativity are as well done as any artist biographic film. The scenes of John learning to play the banjo and write music are layered and reminiscent of Citizen Kane’s wife’s opera debut.

Dedicated to Anthony Minghella, this film has three hallmarks of a Minghella collaboration: A love triangle - uniquely between the birth mother, adoptive mother and John; all parties are eligible for redemption, and finally the work is visually breathtaking.

Nowhere Boy. 35 mm. Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood. USA The Weinstein Company. October 8, 2010. (97 min)


Anonymous said...

It’s really a nice and helpful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Beneficial info and excellent design you got here! I want to thank you for sharing your ideas and putting the time into the stuff you publish! Great work!

Anonymous said...

glad to be one of several visitors on this awe inspiring internet site : D.(Charlxtz)