If you are adopted, you might feel personally affected by adoption-themed movies and books. Sometimes, we accidentally stumble upon a movie with adoption themes. We are smacked in the face with adoption topics and feelings when we least expect it. This happened to me a few weeks ago when my husband and I watched Daniel Deronda.
My mother-in-law is a movie collector. She loves to buy and collect movies and tv shows of all different themes and genres. She especially loves period pieces (which also happens to be my favorite genre of movie at the moment). The other day, knowing nothing of the theme, we grabbed Daniel Deronda. This movie is based on a book by George Eliot written in 1876. With a tad bit of embarrassment, I admit I haven’t read the book. The movie though, was excellent.
When we picked it out, we simply did so hoping to watch another period piece. We had no idea that it would be heavily themed with adoption, identity, and abandonment issues. If you don’t want any spoilers, I would recommend you stop reading right about now. But if you do stop reading, please go rent Daniel Deronda somewhere. Especially if your life is touched by adoption in any way. Then come back to this article and see what an adoptee has to say about this adoption-themed story.
Now, I’m not going to go into great detail about the entire plot. There are lots of other topics addressed in this story: arrogance, vanity, suicide, domestic abuse, and a lot more. As an adoptee, the theme of adoption, more like misattributed parentage, stood out the most.
About the Film
Daniel Deronda, one of the main characters of the story, is a young man who has been raised by a rich man his entire life. It is not confirmed to him whether or not the man is his father, although Daniel (and the entire community) speculate that the two are father and son. Throughout the story, Daniel exhibits excellent character qualities like kindness, patience, and gentleness. At one point, Daniel crosses paths with a Jewish girl named Mirah who tries to commit suicide. He saves her life and helps her to get on her feet. Mirah is very passionate about her heritage. Daniel, not knowing his own heritage, is drawn to Mirah’s passion for her culture. Daniel craves his unknown culture.
Mirah has been separated from her family. She knows she has a brother, but she doesn’t know where he is or what has become of him. Daniel, not knowing his own biological family, makes it his own personal mission to find this woman’s family. He ends up going to the local Jewish community and falling in love with the culture. Throughout the movie, Daniel feels Jewish. Regardless, he clings to the idea of becoming a part of the culture.
How I Relate
My adoptive grandmother on my father’s side is Scottish and Irish. She grew up in Ireland during the Great Depression. She has red hair, a bit of an accent left over from her 20 years in Ireland, and a lot of Irish Spirit. She was passionate about her culture. She cooked Irish stew, and celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day like no one else I’ve ever seen!
I was raised in a closed adoption not knowing anything of my beginnings, heritage, or culture. As a child, I clung to my grandmother’s culture. I wanted to be Irish. I knew so much about the country and culture from stories my grandma told me. Ireland felt like the greatest place on earth to me as a child. I was proud of my Irish heritage, even if it wasn’t genetic. I loved Irish culture so much that my husband and I considered naming our second child Ireland. Not long after he was born, and we named him something else, I took an ancestry DNA kit. Guess how Irish I am? A whopping 5 percent. I was a little crushed in spirit when I found out how not Irish I was. But regardless, I still consider myself Irish by adoption.
Finding Identity in Adoption
When watching Daniel Deronda, I related so much to the absence of heritage and culture. The lack of information and the attraction to other cultures was very much how I was raised and how I felt as a child. This is what closed adoption can do. It can develop into an identity crisis.
Withholding information about one’s heritage is painful to the individual. The only difference between me and Daniel Deronda is Daniel Deronda found out he was, in fact, Jewish! At the end of the movie, The man who raises Daniel confesses to being his father. He gives Daniel a letter from his mother, and Daniel takes a trip to meet her for the first time. In this scene, he finds out that his Mother is Jewish. She confesses to abandoning him for the sake of him not being raised a Jew. She did not want Daniel to face the oppression of the Jewish people at this time. Daniel disagrees with her and tells her that he loves the Jewish people and he loves his Jewish heritage. As the viewer, we find out his mother is dying and that this will be the first and last time they meet. Although many feelings come from this meeting, Daniel gets his answers. He gets a culture and a heritage. At the end of the movie, Mirah and Daniel fall in love. Their Jewish culture brought them together despite having no confirmation that Daniel was also Jewish. We are attracted to things that make us feel familiar.
The overarching theme for me in this movie was that background matters. People have a right to know who they are and where they come from. Culture is important. Culture can find us. Knowing my heritage, ethnicity, and culture after 23 years of no knowledge was life-changing. It gave me a strong sense of identity that I didn’t have before. I wish I would have known my entire life. You don’t realize how much information can be a privilege until you don’t have it. Now, I get to raise my 3 children knowing their heritage. You better believe I made my husband do a DNA test too! And one of the best parts of adoption? I get to have my adopted family’s culture and my biological culture. I am Irish by heart and English-Russian by biology. Both are important and special to me in different ways.