Martian Child

I picked up Martian Child without having heard anything about it.  John Cusack is enough for me to pick a movie up and give it a try though.  While he’s not 100% in the movies he chooses, I always enjoy his personal screen presence. 

Overall, Martian Child strikes me as a good story that has a lot more to say than it has time or space or even words and story to fill.  There are so many tangents to be explored further, that are simply introduced briefly and never followed up on.  The story of a socially isolated child who thinks he’s a Martian being adopted by a widower sci-fi author provide a plethora of opportunities for interplay – far more than a single movie can adequately explore.

But the biggest problem with this movie is not the acting or the plot or the multiple dead-end story lines.  The problem for me is once again with the explicit and implicity philosophy of the movie.  Throughout the movie, the  characters are constantly struggling to deal with and accept the impermanence of life here, the fallibility of people, their own inabilities to deal with the things that life brings them.  And yet the best the movie can do at the end, is to blithely ignore all of these realities with pledges of never-ever-ever-ever ending love and presence.  The movie so desperately wants to be uplifting, but has nothing with which to uplift itself, or us.

Cusack’s character is a widower.  He loves his wife deeply still.  Is grieving still.  Here’s a man who knows all too well that we cannot control our fate.   Here’s a man who should know better than anyone that despite all of our limited human intentions, we aren’t in control here.  He seeks to adopt a troubled 7-year old who is dealing with abandonment issues.  The motif of being from different planets is explicit throughout the film. 

Cusack & Dennis deal with death and loss together in the form of Cusack’s dog.  But they don’t really deal with it.  As the father of an almost 6-year old, I know that when our dog dies (which is likely, ironically, to be literally any day now), it will be an opportunity for me to talk with my son, and my three year old daughter, about death.  About the fact that people and animals don’t live forever, and sometime, we’ll have to say goodbye. 

Of course, that discussion will happen within the assurance and joy of knowing that this is not the end.  That we look forward to an eternity with a loving God who created each one of us and gave us to each other to love and cherish and support and encourage.  So that when our dog – or I, or anyone else – dies, we can be sad because we’ll miss them.  But we can also be very happy, knowing that because of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, we have hope for eternal happiness with those we live, and primarily with the God who loved us enough to create us in the first place.

None of that in this movie, though.  Loved ones are likened to stars that we can talk to.  Distant.  Impersonal.  Cold.  Lonely.  The movie had a great opportunity to deal with the reality of death and loss and to force the characters to each confront their own personal losses while further forging their bond together.  But it skips out on that entirely.  There’s nothing for it but to struggle on valiantly, deeply wounded, aching, yet still supposed to ignore that pain and blithely look forward to a life without these things somehow.

And so, by the climactic end of the film, the best that the film can give us is the promise that despite death and the total lack of predictability and control in our lives, we can promise one another that we will always always always be there for one another.  It has nothing – and noOne – more to offer.  We’re all we’ve got.  As the movie points out itself, if we’re all just a random burp of the Big Bang, it makes no sense that we love one another selflessly.  Yet this is also the only hope that it can offer.  That we can will ourselves to be everything to another person, that we can will ourselves to never forsake, never abandon, and to never be taken away. 

It’s a hollow promise.  So hollow that a 7-year old would normally be able to see right through it, to know for a fact that it can’t possibly be true, that nobody can make those kinds of promises – especially if that 7-year old has already suffered very real and painful loss.  But, this is Hollywood.  And in Hollywood, kids are always preternaturally prescient – unless of course that ruins the sloppily wrapped ending.  In which case, they’re always always always always suckers. 

Do we all have to be suckers?

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