When a story focuses on orphans, it tends to focus predominantly on the socioeconomic structure that dictates their lives. In film, the typical quest for an orphan is either: find solace in their new life or escape their living situation. However, assembling a variation of a family– either through friends or the adoption process–leaves a lot of unanswered questions for the protagonists. In fiction, it’s easy to paint it with a happy ending, but reality is more complicated. In this article, we would like to examine the importance of technology in the latest iteration of the orphan narrative: a rebuilding of family across time and space.
Twinsters is a documentary feature about identical twins separated by the adoption process. It begins as American actress, Samantha Fullerman, is discovered by French student, Anaïs Bordier–a woman an ocean apart who shares her face.Through Facebook and a social media campaign run by Anaïs’s friends, the twins not only discover one another, but begin steps in unifying their family identity. Throughout the film, the girls communicate through digital means as they come to terms with each other’s existence, do in-home DNA tests to confirm their blood relation, and track down information on their birth mother and adoption process.
From Twinsters, we transition to Philomena, a film from the mother’s perspective, as she tries to reconnect with her lost son. Philomena Lee, with the help of journalist Martin Sixsmith, employs different methods of technology to bridge past and present, using the internet and investigative journalism to look into what happened to her son, Anthony. Through archival news clippings, Sixsmith realizes that Anthony Lee became Michael Hess and that Anthony/Michael became a key advisor for the Republican National Committee during the Reagan administration. Sadly, Philomena learns that her son has passed away and that he spent the last six months of his life searching for her. While she missed the entirety of her son’s life, she is able to form a connection with him through home video tapes.
Saroo’s journey starts no differently than Philomena’s, as a random occurrence triggers a sense of nostalgia and a longing for home. When a peer suggests Google Earth, his quest begins in earnest until he becomes a man obsessed. Saroo’s journey to find home is fraught with difficulties: he has a hazy memory of his long train ride and he no longer speaks his native language, Hindi. Utilizing Google Maps, he traces rough routes out of Kolkata and searches station by station. Without technology, Saroo would not have been able to use half-memories of his hometown to retrace his path. His journey ends happily, as he is able to unite the family that adopted him with the mother that bore him.
All three of these true stories do something that has not previously been seen in narrative features: they rebuild the familial unit within an existing adoption narrative. In the examples mentioned, those orphaned never are dissatisfied with their lot in life, but they do yearn to know exactly where they come from. The development of modern technology has helped reunite families and it will continue to break boundaries across the globe. With these advancements, the narrative is shifting away from hopeless orphans and more towards protecting and rebuilding the foundations of a family. Not every orphan story will end happily, even in fiction. Yet, simply due to the spread of technology and globalization, it will become nearly impossible to stay lost forever.
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