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As a kid, David Gordon was a misfit who escaped into an imagination that took him "far, far away." And those trips of fantasy eventually helped him grow up to become a very successful sci-fi writer. So when David meets an abandoned, emotionally abused boy named Dennis—who claims to be a Martian and spends his days hiding from the sun in a cardboard box—he sees him as a sort of kindred spirit.
David's sister Liz repeatedly reminds her brother that a grieving single guy (his wife recently died) adopting an emotionally damaged child would be nothing short of insane. David's agent, Jeff, agrees, especially since the writer is falling behind on the deadline for a new book. Even the adoption committee isn't sold on the idea.
But the deep-space author can't get Dennis off his mind. So with a bit of coaxing (and some SPF-45 sunscreen) David gets the 10-year-old to trade his old battered box for a brand new family.
That doesn't mean things get easy. Dennis has a number of difficult quirks: He'll only eat Lucky Charms cereal, insists on wearing a weight belt (it's to keep him from floating away), incessantly takes Polaroid pictures and steals things from the kids at school to further his "studies of human life."
Thankfully for Dennis, David isn't easily cowed. He's a great listener and a patient, loving dad who's determined to break through his new boy's emotional force field.
Martian Child takes on the struggles and joys of parenting, and does right by them, especially when it comes to displaying the loving rewards of adoption. David is a consistent, good dad. He works hard to help his son see that our world can be a place filled with mystery, wonder and, above all, loving security.
Figuring out positive ways to cope with loss is also a big theme here. Dennis has in the past lost everything he knows and loves, and he is constantly worried about losing David. David, in turn, is worried about losing Dennis. And the death of David's old dog, who dies in Dennis' room, only serves to put premature punctuation on the dangling sentences everyone's trying to finish. At one point David tells Dennis, "I want to prove to you that not all parents disappear forever." And it's that sentiment that wins out in the end as it joins hands with the idea that unconditional love is one of mankind's highest callings.
David also discusses questions about conformity with his young charge. When is it smart to "play by Earth rules?" Is it OK to be who you are, even if that seems different than others?
David receives lots of support and encouragement from his life-long friend, Harlee. In fact, she becomes a kind of surrogate mom for Dennis. And although Liz starts out critical of her brother's choice ("Parenting is really hard and you need at least two people. ... Kids are like mosquitoes, they suck the life out of you!"), she offers support when she sees how much Dennis means to him.
After one of David's exclamations of "Jesus!" a young girl retorts, "Jesus is important, but other religions are just as relevant." David and Harlee make a brief comment about Dennis' actions being "Zen." Later they reference yogis. Dennis takes a picture of a Buddhist icon in David's garden.
Harlee wears a cleavage-baring top and a form-fitting T-shirt. There is mild sexual tension evident in some of the conversations she has with David, especially when David mentions that she can stay the night. (She doesn't.) Once, they share a brief, almost accidental, kiss. Another time, she kisses him on the cheek. Harlee states that David's wife had mentioned he was "good in bed."
A young boy is hit in the head with a playground ball. After Dennis accidentally breaks something, David assuages the boy's fears by joining him in breaking plates in the kitchen. Sword fighting is seen on the set for a film based on one of David's books. Not violent but pretty tense is a scene in which Dennis teeters on a high ledge while David climbs up to rescue him.
Crude or Profane Language
David exclaims Jesus' name a half-dozen times. God's name serves as interjection a few more. There is one abuse of the word "h---."
ONLINE EDITOR'S NOTE: Some dialogue edited for DVD release. See details at the end of this review.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Liz's husband drinks a beer during a picnic lunch, as does Harlee later on at David's house.
Other Negative Elements
While talking with his sister, David mentions arguments against bringing another child into the world, but can't resist the logic of loving one who's already born. And because of her insistence that parenting is insanely hard, he tells her, "You should work for Planned Parenthood."
The stuff Dennis steals from David and the kids at school he puts in baggies in his closet. David makes a comment about his dog licking his own genitals.
Martian Child is loosely based on a semi-autobiographical book by David Gerrold that tells the story of a gay man who adopts a troubled boy. The movie adaptation doesn't tread the book's sexual-orientation path, though, making the central character a widower instead. And in the process it focuses more on David and his son helping one another through their own personal tragedies. The result is a well-acted, funny, endearing, tender, uplifting (and sometimes a bit sappy) movie that applauds adoption and the healing power of love.
I was disappointed that for all of David's flippant invocations of Jesus' name, the film never explored His love—particularly since it's only through the Savior's actions that the concept of unconditional, sacrificial love can be fully understood. Instead we're offered a fairly nebulous (squishy) one-size-fits-all spirituality.
Still, Martian Child manages to make powerful statements about a person's ability to love even in the midst of personal suffering. And it speaks of the need to embrace the innocents who have been beaten down and injured by our oftentimes painful world.
The film may be a bit introspective for some to enjoy. (The young fella next to me during the movie screening was having a hard time connecting.) But this Martian's persistent choice of love and its encouragement to "never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up" on the people we hold dear are heartwarming and inspiring. As is David's modeling of patience, selflessness and sensitivity. What isn't is David's insistence on abusing Jesus' name.
ONLINE EDITOR'S NOTE: New Line Cinema released Martian Child on DVD after editing portions of the theatrical version. Specifically, all abuses of Jesus' name were deleted.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
John Cusack as David; Bobby Coleman as Dennis; Amanda Peet as Harlee; Oliver Platt as Jeff; Joan Cusack as Liz
Menno Meyjes ( )
New Line Cinema