Loggerheads (2005): Tale of Adoption, Starring Tess Harper and Bonnie Hunt

Inspired by true events, “Loggerheads” charts an adoption triad, birth mother, gay son, and adoptive parents, as they struggle to bridge the gaps of time, space, and culture that separate them.

In the small town of Eden, a minister’s wife, Elizabeth (Tess Harper), must confront her conservative husband, who has enforced a harsh estrangement from their adopted son since theyve learned that he’s gay. Meanwhile, listless and disappointed in life, Grace (Bonnie Hunt) makes a last ditch decision to search for the son she was pressured into giving up for adoption as a teenager.

Mark (Kip Pardue), a longtime drifter who is strangely fascinated with loggerhead sea turtles, crosses paths with George (Michael Kelly), a resident of the quiet beach community. For a time, George provides Mark the support and companionship he’s been eager for. Their stories interweave to create a portrait of familial detachment and longing that is at once universal, and steeped in the keenly observed looks and rhythms of three distinctive settings across North Carolina.

“Loggerheads” could have been a better film since it dares to bring up subjects that have for years been considered secretive or shameful, such as adoption and coming to terms with a gay son. While the film confronts middle-American intolerance without condescension, it does it in obvious, even blatant ways. Though occasionally touching and poignant, “Loggerheads” is too soft and diffuse, and a bit superficial, too. After a good beginning, it becomes conventional and predictable.

“Loggerhead” should particularly appeal to people who have experienced adoption, on either side of the equation, and gay men living in small-towns, two groups rarely see onscreen.

The film is based on the story of Diana Ricketts. While making the documentary, “Dear Jesse,” Patsy Clarke and Eloise Vaughn, the founding members of MAJIC (Mothers Against Jesse In Congress) introduced Tim Kirkman to a woman who had also lost a son to AIDS. Diana had relinquished a child for adoption at a very young age and had tried to reunite with him once he was an adult, but the adoption laws in North Carolina prevented her. The director says he was fascinated by the fact that two adults who want to meet can’t do it.

On the plus side, the movie shows how a single act of adoption affects—and potentially destroys—the lives of many people. Since his own family was created in part by adoption, the adoptive parent’s POV is based on firsthand experience.

Ultimately, “Loggerheads” is about the ways in which different kinds of shame can lead to destruction. The shame of relinquishing a child, the shame of being relinquished, the shame of infertility, the shame of being gay, all unnecessarily assigned by our culture in a variety of forms. But it also shows how shame can be transformed into a healing and even hopeful experience.

Kip Pardue (“Thirteen,” “Remember the Titans”) is well cast as Mark, bringing both intensity and a kindness to the role. Blessed with an ethereal quality, he projects a healthy, positive image of a person with AIDS. The director should be commended for contesting and shattering the visual clich used by Hollywood and TV in depicting HIV-positive on screen.

Bonnie Hunt plays a woman who’s a journey to do something that a lot of people think is selfish or intrusive. Grace is not easy to like, because she had given up her child, an event that had caused enormous upheaval to her world and had echoed across the years, as it does for people who have relinquished children. It’s a departure for Hunt in terms of her public persona, enabling her to bring intelligence and much needed empathetic quality to her character.

The three stories unfold in distinctly looking North Carolinian milieus, conveyed with a detailed sense of place in this film. Born and raised in North Carolina, Kirkman brings an insider’s knowledge to the tale’s locales. Since the story hinges on state adoption laws, North Carolina feels like a fourth character in the movie. The geographical separations, with the three settings of mountains, Piedmont and coast, parallel the emotional separations between the three characters.

Heavy symbolism is used to convey Mark’s fascination with the ancient creatures of loggerhead sea turtles. Every summer, the females crawl up on the North Carolina beaches, lay eggs in the sand and leave them behind. Then the babies hatch and find their way to the ocean. The film makes obvious metaphorical connections between Mark and the turtles as creatures that were also abandoned by their birth mothers.

There are parallels between the extinction of these turtles and their struggle to survive, trying to reach the ocean before predators attack them. There’s also the connection between the birth mother and the turtles, because the females return to the exact same spot on the beach where they were born.

In the press notes, Kirkman says he was intrigued by the issue of how the same political machine that so vehemently opposed civil rights, who firmly believed there should be separate schools, water fountains, and marriages, are the same ones that today say, “Okay, we were wrong about that, but were definitely right about the gays.”

To question the whole red state-blue state divide, the transformation of prejudice over time, he assigns the “voice” of prejudice in the film to the minister, because it accurately reflects the contemporary anti-gay voice. And it’s also the reason he decides to show that the minister and his wife are not racists; in fact, they mock their neighbors who are prejudice.

If the movie’s level of execution matched the director’s intent, “Loggerheads’ would have been a decent picture, but it doesn’t, hence my mixed feelings about the film.