By Angela

For people with brain injuries who feel like misfits or outsiders, I’d like to recommend one of my favorite movies….

Martian Child (2007)

Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Joan Cusack, Oliver Platt

Martian Child is about a man named David Gordon, science fiction writer and recent widower, who decides to do something meaningful with his life — adopt and love a child who is already on the earth, rather than bring a child of his own into the world. An adoption agency worker asks him if he might consider adopting a child whom she believes to be a perfect match for him, a young boy named Dennis who believes he is from Mars.

Dennis is a quirky little kid first seen outside, sitting with a large box over himself watching everyone from a rectangular viewing hole located at the top of the box. When David asks another child why Dennis is in the box, she answers because he’s a “weirdo” who doesn’t come out in the light. Why? Because he hates the sun. It’s too sunny on Earth for Martians. He also wears a gravity belt made of batteries attached to a belt with duct tape, so that he doesn’t float away.

David befriends the child with a bottle of sunscreen and a pair of sunglasses, encouraging him to come out of his box. He also equips him with a fully loaded Polaroid camera which Dennis uses to take pictures of everything – part of his mission to learn about Earth and its inhabitants. There are also some comical scenes where David and a friend teach Dennis how to play baseball and how to bowl.

David sees his mission as teaching Dennis how to be a socialized, well-adjusted person who is able to experience love and fit into the real world. The irony is that David, the adult, is the one who ends up learning some of the most profound lessons. He learns that he is not the human, but one of the ugly creatures who almost destroys a beautiful human being. He admits it is much safer to look at the world from a rocket ship, but this mindset and arrogance are precisely what makes him the creature, not the human. This realization hits home when his publisher, angry at him for not producing a manuscript on a promised book, caustically says to him: “Why can’t you just be what we want you to be?”

This is one of my favorite movies because as a person with a brain injury, I resonate with so many of Dennis’ challenges and struggles. The sun is also too bright for me, and too many things to look at and listen to cause me to feel incredibly overwhelmed. Since my brain filters don’t work so well, I’m usually seen out in public wearing sunglasses and noise-reducing headphones. Most of my time is spent in my home; it’s my security box from which I do not venture very far. I’m sure I look just as strange as Dennis with his sunglasses, sunscreen and gravity belt, peering out the hole in his box.

Difficulties with balance and knowing where my body is in space are much like Dennis’ gravity problems. If I’m not holding onto something, I feel like I’m swimming in a huge ocean with very little control or certainty of where I’m at. When I get tired, I have to think about how to move my legs to walk or climb a step. If I fall, I need someone to tell me how to move my arms and legs so I can stand up. I can relate soooo much to his attempts to learn how to bowl and play baseball. When you have to think about controlling all the individual movements to do a particular task, your timing is really off and can look pretty weird.

However, there can be advantages to this slower processing. Like Dennis whose mission is to study human life through the lens of a Polaraid, those of us who have been forced to slow down have the time to observe people, reflect upon life and figure out what’s really important . . . what matters the most.

And, yes, we do see and experience how cruel human beings can be. Like the doctors and professionals who keep a safe distance peering out at us from their rocket ships, analyzing and dissecting those of us with brain injuries. Arrogantly proclaiming that there is nothing physically wrong with our brains – that we are just weird creatures with deep-seated psychological problems.

Perhaps someday they will finally realize that they are the creatures, not the humans they think they are. Until then, we all need to find and hang onto the people in our lives who are like David. People who acknowledge how hard we try to fit in and be loved, and how cruel human beings can be. People who respond to us with the messages that we all want to hear: “You are lovable and special to me,” “Whoever let you go were the stupidest humans in the Universe,” and “I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever leave you or give up on you.”

© Angela Cramer, 2008

Tags: TBI, traumatic brain injury, acquired brain injury, post concussion syndrome, movie recommendations, Martian Child, unconditional love, misfit


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