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Transfiguring Adoption awarded this book 3 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a foster/adoptive family. [Learn more about our Hoot grading system here]

Movie Info:

  • Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language)
  • Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
  • Runtime: 114 minutes
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox

From Dark Phoenix (2019) by 20th Century Fox:

“In Dark Phoenix, the X-MEN face their most formidable and powerful foe: one of their own, Jean Grey. During a rescue mission in space, Jean is nearly killed when she is hit by a mysterious cosmic force. Once she returns home, this force not only makes her infinitely more powerful, but far more unstable. Wrestling with this entity inside her, Jean unleashes her powers in ways she can neither comprehend nor contain. With Jean spiraling out of control, and hurting the ones she loves most, she begins to unravel the very fabric that holds the X-Men together. Now, with this family falling apart, they must find a way to unite — not only to save Jean’s soul, but to save our very planet from aliens who wish to weaponize this force and rule the galaxy.”

[Buy the PDF Version of the Review & Discussion Guide]

Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:

Dark Phoenix (2019) was going to be a tall order from the beginning. The last time audiences saw Dark Phoenix was for X-Men III: The Last Stand (2006) and ratings were not kind to her portrayal. To be honest, the Dark Phoenix story is hard to get without knowing Phoenix as intimately as dedicated fans of the animated series and comics know her. Phoenix has time in those mediums to save the day and become well-loved within the Marvel Universe, whereas a movie is going to have to cut some level of character development for time’s sake. This is where several X-Men movies have suffered, in cutting timelines for character development.

However, with that being said, Sophie Turner and the team of writers for this latest installment for the X-Men Universe did a fantastic job of making the audience care intensely for Jean Grey before succumbing to Dark Phoenix in the absence of Phoenix by looking at a painful childhood and how even the best of intentions to protect a hurting child can have dire consequences for the child, the family unit, and even the surrounding community.

** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **

How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?

The movie opens with Jean losing control of her psychokinetic power resulting in a massive car crash. The audience, along with Jean, sees Mrs. Grey’s lifeless eyes reflected in the rearview mirror, implying Jean’s new status as an orphan and leaving her asking, “So what happens to me now?” Professor Charles Xavier (alias: Professor X) comes and promises her a new family and a gift in the form of a new life. “You think you can fix me, too,” says a skeptical Jean to Professor X’s offer. “No, no because you are not broken,” promises Professor X to the hurting and devastated child. He explains that life is a gift in the form of a pen. “A pen is just a gift. What you choose to do with it is entirely up to you.”

Little does the audience, or Jean, know that the Professor’s well intended gift includes more than a home, a family, and a new life. The Professor’s gift also includes a well-intentioned separation for Jean from her painful memories and knowledge of how she truly became an orphan that day, resulting in the entire world almost ending.

Not only does the movie directly use the example of a child orphaned/abandoned and becoming part of a new family, but Dark Phoenix (2019) can also provide caregivers with a raw example of how trauma may leave a child without physical scars but with myriads of emotional scars that, left unchecked, can wreak havoc on the life and wellbeing of a traumatized child.

I caution taking most children to this film, as the film is PG-13 with very good reason. This film may be most beneficial to a caregiver but with sensitivity and discussion could be valuable for an older teenager who has experience with foster/adoptive care. Again though, this is not a superhero movie for younger children under 13 and certainly not appropriate for children under that age especially if they have been in foster/adoptive care, have witnessed domestic violence/death, or struggle with nightmares.

Discussion Points:

  • Not All Scars Are Visible or Physical
    Even though Jean could not remember every event leading up to her admission to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, her body and brain remembered as seen in her responses to traumatic events early in the film. Her body survived “without a scratch,” but her mind did not. Caregivers should be mindful about this with any child or youth in their home. A child or youth could seem unaffected by domestic violence or other trauma, but the mental scars may never leave.
  • Not Addressing Trauma Doesn’t Mean It Goes Away
    Seeing loved ones suffer is hard, especially when our loved one is young and we feel helpless in comforting our youth. Often seeing youth suffer makes adults uncomfortable, and adults may be tempted to push away the gravity of trauma on development. While love and understanding is very important in the foster/adoptive caregiver toolbox, this alone will fail in the face of raw, painful trauma. Caregivers need to remember that foster/adoptive parents need to be available to help a youth walk through their grief and not suppress or bury it. What’s pushed down will eventually come out somewhere when disturbed.
  • Adversity Can Make Us Stronger
    When Jean initially absorbs the solar energy, we initially believe her to be dead. However, she wakes up with her powers stronger than ever. Though we do not wish for challenges and adversity, if we have the right supports, we can come out on the other side of the challenge stronger and better able to address struggle in the future. However, as we saw with Jean, without the proper support and help dealing with the greater power, she was eventually consumed by it. Our youth are capable of great feats, but to expect them to “pull up their boot straps” alone and tough out hard things is an expectation they will fail. Humans are social creatures in need of emotional support in addition to physical support. Consider what supports are available to your youth in the form of family members and mentors.
  • “Looking Fine” After Trauma Does Not Mean All Is Well
    Think of the Titanic. The iceberg didn’t seem so large on the surface, but what lurked below is what ultimately tore into the hull and resulting in the infamous shipwreck. Jean told others around her she was fine and tried to act as if all was well (partying, drinking, etc.), but underneath the surface Jean was suffering from various flashbacks and trying to control the power that surged through her already meddled mind. Caregivers need to remember to watch for signs of struggle, like Scott Summers, and keep checking in long after trauma may have occurred. There is no telling what could set a youth off, and often they may not understand why they respond to triggers with behavior. It’s up to caregivers to watch for clues to help youth connect feelings to behaviors and help them regulate hard emotions.
  • Protecting the Peace Does Not Mean Sacrificing One
    Throughout the film Professor X is seen struggling over what to do: address Jean directly or suppress her power and memories to protect the image/peace/relations between humans and mutants. Professor X truly believes he is doing the right thing to protect Jean from herself and from the larger community, though several peers he respects beg him to reconsider. Ultimately, because Jean is treated as something to be “fixed” or is “broken” and not helped to walk through trauma by those she trusts, the entire world is put in danger, and Jean loses her life. Addressing trauma may be difficult work for the household, but suppressing it will only make it worse. It’s important that we come together as a community to support a youth in crisis.
  • Sometimes Hurt People Hurt People
    This is a huge theme throughout the film. Professor X has his own baggage that influences how he manages Jean’s struggles. Jean hurts (or kills) people she loves while she experiences periods of intense struggle and crisis. Mr. Grey acts and speaks in devastating, seemingly heartless ways towards his only daughter. This does not make the pain caused by others in any way okay, but can explain why someone may act as they do. Caregivers need to take note as youth may not return affections in times of crisis or struggle, and caregivers need to be prepared for times when youth may lash out. After things calm down, the behaviors can be addressed, but in the moment caregivers should focus on the need the youth is trying to express and QTIP – Quit Taking It Personal. Remember that all behavior communicates need and that can be seen even in Jean’s survival behaviors involving pushing people away and hurting them. Watch the impulse. She’s not trying to hurt or kill, not pre-meditatively. She’s acting upon impulse and in response to perceived danger.
  • Good Intentions Aside, Adults Need to Admit to Mistakes
    This is hard for adults to swallow, but very necessary. Caregivers are humans, and you will make mistakes in misreading a need or reacting in the moment to your child’s behavior. But rather than dismissing mistakes, blaming the child for “making you react,” or refusing to acknowledge the part you or other adults may play in a child’s trauma, it’s important for caregivers to model how to accept responsibility for conflict or pain and show how to make amends. This is not something innately known but learned in social/emotional relationships with those we trust. And remember, it’s easier for a youth to meet us in the middle and accept responsibility for their 80% of the conflict if we step out and accept our 20% of the conflict.

Cautionary Points:

  • Graphic Car Crash/Footage of Space Shuttle Endeavor in 1992
    It is important to remember that our youth have gone through many challenges and experiences unique to a foster or adopted youth. Sometimes we know pieces of information upon placement, but other times we find out about trauma triggers and problematic survival behaviors after building a relationship of trust and security with a child. People are seen dead or implied to have suffered great harm after these incidents as well as during fight scenes where civilians were likely injured or killed during battles between mutants and when Jean absorbs a solar explosion and appears dead.
  • Alcohol Use Abounds
    Professor Charles Xavier is seen several times clearly using alcohol as a coping mechanism after loss or scares. He’s seen asleep after over drinking and actively drinking alcohol poured from a crystal decanter. The professor acts erratically in response to drinking and being hung over. Jean is also seen drinking alcohol with other mutants, and it is unclear if she is of age. Both of these points could be triggering for youth with substance abuse struggles or who have witnessed substance abuse and harmful behaviors that may have followed such use.
  • Implied Animal Killing
    In a scene early in the film an alien creature is implied to have killed a dog, resulting in a pained yelp from the dog off screen before the creature pursues the humans in the home. This may be hard for those easily affected by cruelty to animals or triggering for youth who have a history of harming animals.
  • Several Forms of Intense Violence Towards Humans/Humanoid Creatures
    This includes several guns being pointed at heads for kill-shots, Jean impaling Raven, Jean being impaled, Mr. Grey being tortured severely by an alien creature in a human body, and several military personnel being attacked and killed violently. This can be triggering for youth who have witnessed violence or who have struggled with violence/homicidal intent.
  • Portrayal of PTSD/Flashbacks
    Several times toward the beginning of the film Jean is seen disassociating and experiencing heavy flashbacks of her past. This may be difficult for youth who suffer from anxiety and PTSD flashbacks related to past traumas such as abuse or witnessing violence.
  • Parent Giving Up Rights/Blaming Child for Loss
    Through the movie it is discovered that Mr. Grey actually did survive the car crash that killed Jean’s mother. However, his absence is due to giving up his parental rights to Professor Charles Xavier due to blaming Jean for her mother’s death. When Jean finds her father upon discovering he’s alive, he directly tells her he blames her for her mother’s death. This may be difficult for youth whose parents have surrendered their parental rights or who may not be participating in plans to reunify with their child.
  • Foul Language
    There is one use of the “F-word” in the film, used by Scott “Cyclops” Summers.
  • Mutant Concentration Camps
    Though this is not the first time the franchise has portrayed some form of this, it may be triggering to some youth affected culturally by such containment/detainment historically or at present.
  • Professor X’s Use of Cerebro to Alter Jean Grey’s Mind and Control Her
    You read that right! It turns out that Professor X has been using his powers (amplified by Cerebro) to suppress Jean’s memories and emotions. This may be challenging to see for youth struggling with trusting therapeutic supports due to common misconceptions of trying to “control” or “get in their heads.” The manipulative tactics used by Professor X (though well intended) may be triggering for youth who have suffered from mental and emotional abuse. Now, eventually Professor X does recognize his mistakes, but unfortunately it comes too late because…
  • Jean Sacrifices Herself in a Murder/Suicide to Save the World
    This is extremely challenging for youth who suffer from suicidal ideation. The ending depicts Jean’s death as being the only way to save the world and the people she loves. This also depicts that she is a hero for her sacrifice. Though she may have been a hero for stepping in and saving the world, we do NOT want to give the message to youth who are NOT trained fighters that their life is worth throwing away and that their death is the solution to suffering. If your youth does suffer from suicidal ideation, contact your support team to develop safety plans to protect your youth and remember that visual media exposure may be triggering for your youth.

Discussion Guide:

      1. How did you feel about this movie? Did you feel that Jean was dealt a fair lot?
        Caregiver Note: Youth may be affected by seeing Jean manipulated (left with literal holes in her mind) and then dying so suddenly. It’s important to remember that foster and adoptive youth have suffered losses in greater amounts and/or earlier than their peers and may be triggered by aspects of Jean’s life. This will be a good question to open the door to conversation and see where your youth is ranging emotionally in response to some pretty intense scenes.
      2. Why did Professor Charles Xavier alter Jean’s memories?
        Caregiver Note: This film portrays some intense emotional dynamics! We see Professor X taking in a young, traumatized Jean and trying to offer her a new life… but by creating holes in Jean’s memories, Professor X merely hid all the traumatic memories rather than supporting Jean by walking through the hard things with her and teaching her how to cope. As adults who love children and youth, we HATE to see them suffer and very much (like Professor X) want to take away their pain. It’s important to discuss with our youth how Professor X meant very well with his intentions, but that sometimes the best thing we can do for loved ones in pain is to be there with them.
      3. How was Jean able to regain so many of her memories after the shuttle accident and she began to change into Phoenix?
        Caregiver Note: This is a great segue into discussing how trauma is stored in the body. Explain to your youth that trauma often leaves scars unseen by their eyes. Though Jean may have left that initial car accident without a scar on her body, her mind received memories from the stress and emotions of that day. While Professor X would have loved to simply remove the painful memories, he was only able to suppress and hide them. Jean may not be able to recall the pain and agony of those memories, but her body is fully capable of experiencing the stress from the trauma without those memories. When Phoenix began to surface, that was Jean’s bodily response to trauma without the complete picture of “Why?”.
      4.  Activity: Guided Meditation
        Caregiver Note: Often we forget how our body responds to stress and how bodily responses feed back into the stress cycle. A word like “Meditation” may seem scary to a youth who often seeks stimulation to avoid a mind open to painful things, so a guided meditation may be a beneficial tool to 1) give guidance on how to meditate and 2) provide background noise for youth who appear triggered or have “too many thoughts” to meditate silently. I personally fall under that second category due to working a high stress job. There are a few free apps floating around out there, but I’ve enjoyed using the Calm app. It does cost money, but the wide variety of meditations and sleep tracks helps calm my circus-brain. Whichever route you take, I recommend looking for a meditation track that relates to “body scanning.” This is a meditation where the narrator guides the participants through breathing and bringing gentle awareness to each part of the body and what may be happening in response to stress. Not only will this help your youth connect their feelings to somatic experiences (i.e. – tense muscles, tummy aches, short breath, etc.), but it will also instill some grounding techniques they can use in private or in public spaces.
      5. If Jean was affected by the events of the Shuttle rescue, why did she tell everyone she was fine and go to the party? How could the scene have changed if Jean followed recommendations for rest and told someone what was happening?
        Caregiver Note: Whenever something is happening in my teen’s world, she often throws that she’s “fine” at me. My kiddo loves to share her experiences and stories so the short “fine” is a red flag for me as a parent that she may need some extra support and is putting on a brave face. And she’s not the only one either… How often have we heard the advice of “Put your big-girl panties on!” or “Fake it until you make it!”? While those phrases may be well intended, there are times where if a youth needs support they should be able to be heard. As foster/adoptive parents, we often have to play detective to discover the needs our youth are communicating through behavior and emotional check-ins are not exempt from this. Jean’s friends did well in this phase in the movie with checking in with Jean (especially Scott) and keeping an eye out for non-verbal cues when she continued to deny needing support. Youth may be shy, like Jean, about asking for support and need the invitation. Additionally, it’s also good for youth to consider how “faking it until you make it” for too long can cause as many consequences (if not more) as letting emotions blow up immediately.
      6. Why did Jean go back to her father’s house, even though she knew he gave her up?
        Caregiver Note: Youth will always long for their family of origin. Though they may have only spent a small amount of time with their family of origin, that was often their very first sets of relationships with others, on which each other relationship in their life is modeled. In this conversation, a youth may voice they relate to Jean trying to find her father and wishing to do the same. In this place, it’s good to validate those emotions. No matter what the family of origin did, your youth has part of their identity’s foundation in that family and culture. Be careful to speak respectfully of the family of origin for this reason.
      7. Why did Jean hurt Raven if she loved her so much?
        Caregiver Note: Jean and Raven were shown to have a close bond. Often (in this film) Raven spoke up when she felt Jean’s safety was in jeopardy and took great pains to reassure Jean she would be there for her… and then Jean impales her in a fit of rage. As we learn in trauma-informed classes, those who have been hurt often hurt others. In that moment, Jean was (literally) in survival mode due to the attacks from the X-Men following an extremely emotional reunion with her father. She was impulsive, acting upon her fight or flight instinct with cortisol and adrenaline coursing through her body and mind. Though her anger was absolutely validated, left unchecked it had dire consequences. Use this as an opportunity to discuss how emotions are absolutely valid but how acting upon those emotions without a plan may have adverse consequences.
      8. Why did Jean run to Eric (Magneto)? Isn’t he a “bad guy”?
        Caregiver Note: Jean at this point in the film has learned that the person who raised her has lied to her from the beginning and her own father rejected her, blaming her for the death of her mother. Jean responded to all of this in impulse and accidentally kills Raven, whom she loves very much. Jean is in a dark place and feels alone and as if she is herself “bad,” and therefore seeks company from a more “experienced” bad guy. It’s important for us to note as caregivers that our children will seek out support and care from someone else if we are not ready to provide care with the grace to not take their outbursts personally. While no caregiver can be the perfect caregiver, we can look to Professor X’s example to remember how ignoring a true need in favor of an “easier” out can lead to feelings of betrayal and isolation. It is important that we reinforce to our youth that mistakes do not make them “bad” and that we will be there to love them through it and sort out the pieces when the big emotions are more manageable.
      9. When was Jean strongest? As Jean Grey, Dark Phoenix, or Phoenix at the end?
        Caregiver Note: While Jean may have gained a lot of power when Dark Phoenix began to take hold, it was when she fully rose as Phoenix at the end that Jean became the most powerful being in the world. This was not just because her telekinesis got a boost either, as we saw in her time with Dark Phoenix. This was because Jean was able to move through those hard emotions, forgive those who hurt her, and regain a sense of control and empowerment over her own emotions and future. It’s important to discuss with our youth that while working through emotions can be extremely difficult (as can be forgiving those who wronged us, well intended or not), it can help us to become the superheroes we are meant to be so we can move forward and help others.
      10. Activity: Superhero Superdream
        Caregiver Note: Work with your youth to develop a superhero version of themselves. Throw in costume ideas, superpowers, weaknesses, etc. Have them write out their superhero’s backstory and how they came to be a hero. Walk through the stories of overcoming adversity and see how those stories can translate into overcoming the adversity your youth may be experiencing now. Avoid getting too bogged down in too many challenges and feel free to make resolutions fun.

**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

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