Martian Child is yet another story of a widower and a family. In this case, the great "everyman" actor, John Cusack, plays David, a science fiction writer with writer's block who thinks he wants to adopt a child. The child in question is Dennis, a boy who lives in a cardboard box and thinks he is from Mars. Needless to say, Dennis is a little wacky, and as such has been in and out of numerous homes and feels abandoned. Martian Child is a little like K-PAX, and both movies are mildly comic dramas that are skin deep.
The story is about a man becoming a father and a boy becoming a son. But it is more than this. It is also a story of human individuality and uniqueness. The box at the start is a metaphor for the box we all live in. Not only do we live in a box defining our boundaries and identities, but generally we want to put others in a box too. It is easier to stereotype them in this way and then to allow this to define our interactions with them.
David's sister Liz (John's sister Joan Cusack) gives him some "great" advice: "Parenting is hard" and "Kids come at you like mosquitoes, they suck the life out of you. But I wouldn't give mine up for anything in the world." (How many of us as parents can resonate with this.) But despite this "advice," he still pursues adopting Dennis.
When Dennis is sent to live with David, he comes out of his box but continues to want to live his life his way . . . with all the complications that ensue. His stealing and strange behavior isolate him from other kids, and even turn teachers away from him. Nevertheless, Dennis says the key line in the movie: "I'm learning to be human and to be part of a family." Isn't this so true of all of us. We are all learning what it is to be human and to be members of a family. For most, this family is the family we were born into, for others it includes the family we married into, and for Jesus-followers it even incldues the family of God. It is not always easy, and it means accepting others even as we want to be accepted for who we are.
At one point, David's publisher yells at him, "Why won't you be what we want you to be!" How often have we felt this pressure to conform to other people's expectations? How often have we fought to be unique, to be ourselves and not the fictional people others see in us?
Martian Child makes us think about our own role as parents. How hard do we really try to parent our kids? What is important to us? Is it the stuff that fills our homes, that cost us money? Or is it the lives of our children, that are more precious than all the money in the world? As David encourages Dennis to smash all the china plates in his home, because they are just stuff, we are reminded that we can replace anything except our children and our families. These are with us now, but can never be replaced. How we spend our time and money will speak loudly about our values.
Martian Child also helps us to think about what it means to be human. Is it the sameness of our features? Or is it in our differences, our distinctiveness? Is it the inner person, the soul, or is it the outer person, the body? Or is it both? Are we more human if we conform to social pressures? Are we less human if we rebel and behave in eccentric ways? Society may well answer this differently than the Bible. God's Word would say we are human, made in the image of God, in both our material and immaterial-ness.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs