Losing Isaiah – A Review

Losing Isaiah is a beautifully made film that explores a very real question- ‘Who decides what makes a mother?’ just because someone gives birth to a child, does that automatically qualify them to be a mother? Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal and released in 1995 , this intense drama amalgamates strains of race and biology to raise very human questions.

Halle Berry (Khaila Richards) plays a black woman who is addicted to crack cocaine. While going to dope, she leaves her baby in a box near the trash and forgets to come back for him. The next morning when someone is collecting the trash, he finds the infant and takes him to the hospital. At the hospital, Margaret Lewin (Jessica Lange), a white social worker, figures out that the baby is born addicted to crack cocaine and takes him home to her family. She develops a strong bond with him. Three years later, we see that Margaret has officially adopted Isaiah, the name she gave the boy, and Khaila is now clean after having attended a rehab program. She has a place of her own now and goes to a facility to learn how to read. While reading a book about a pregnant woman, Khaila breaks down and cries in front of her caseworker, telling her that she left her baby in the trash long ago. The caseworker makes some calls and finds out that the baby is still alive. When Khaila learns this, she hires a lawyer, Kadar Lewis (played by Samuel L. Jackson) to contest the adoption of Isaiah. This turns into a long and fierce battle over who has the actual right to be Isaiah’s mother, and also raises a broader question of racial issues. Does the woman who has loved and raised him for three years deserve to keep Isaiah, or is his biological mother (who is now clean and capable and has a job) the one he should be with?

This isn’t the sort of movie you watch to relax or to take a break from schedule, but it raises some important, thought-provoking questions that we should all think about. Some of the scenes, like the child screaming loudly when he comes in contact with his biological mother because she is unfamiliar to him, are disturbing for the viewer, but while it doesn’t leave a pleasant taste, it lingers with you long enough to urge you to do something to make a difference in this world.

The acting is absolutely brilliant and it leaves the audience equally confused as judges- which mother deserves the son more? Although she was once an addict, the biological mother has built a new life   and really wants to do her best to make it up to her child and support him. The film shows us how there are no black and white answers.,  The reality is lies in multiple shades of gray. It is also interesting to watch how neither of the two mothers actually takes into consideration the best interests of the child while they are fighting in court.

The larger issue of race is also explored extremely well- how does being a black boy raised in a white family affect Isaiah’s life? Should he be with his biological mother just because they are of the same race? This film raises real noteworthy questions that are still relevant in today’s world.

Although it haunts you for long afterwards, it is a highly recommended film It is thought provoking movies like these which make us question the prevalent norms of and help us grow into a better and more understanding society. After all, one can’t evade reality forever.

Niyantri Ravindran