“Do you trust me? ” That is the multi-dimensional question that Chris Gardner asks his son, Christopher, throughout the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness. ” It is a question that is used as a tool for reinforcement, as a pacifying effect, and as a probe for attachment theorists to examine the depth of the father/son relationship. In response to our assignment to identify the type of attachment between Chris and his son, our group identified patterns that matched well with multiple theories.
Our text identifies Erik Erikson, John Bowlby, and Mary Ainsworth as very influential persons in defining attachment (Santrock p 366). In correlation to the movie, Erikson’s theory of eight stages of development can be applied with an emphasis on the initiative vs. guilt phase. John Bowlby is credited for origination works on the Attachment Theory. The fourth phase of his conceptualization of attachment can certainly be related to the movie. Our group also tagged the work of Mary Ainsworth and her Strange Situation measurement device.
We concluded that Christopher fit the description of a “securely attached baby” very well. According to Erik Erikson’s view of a child’s development, physical comfort and sensitive care are vital to establishing a basic trust in infants. In turn, this sense of trust is the foundation for attachment and sets the stage for a lifelong expectation that the world will be a good and pleasant place to be (Santrock p 366). This trust coupled with Christopher’s age act as a buffer against all of the harsh realities that Chris must cope with. Christopher’s age places him in Erikson’s “initiative versus guilt” stage.
During this stage, children are expected to take initiative in creating play situations that can help cope with challenges (Harder 2002). An excellent example of Christopher in this stage is when the two of them were in the subway station the first night after getting kicked out of the motel. Chris tells his son that the scanner really is a time machine and pretends that they are transported back in time. Christopher uses his imagination and play skills to pretend that they are really hiding from dinosaurs in a cave rather than sleeping in a public restroom in the subway.
Christopher also shows “initiative” when, later in the movie, he suggests to his dad that they can sleep in the “cave” again if they have to. John Bowlby is credited with the origins of the Attachment Theory, taking an ethological perspective in which much of his work is still highly regarded. There are four phases of his Attachment theory. In the first phase the child is oriented toward all human stimuli, the second phase is differentiating between stimuli and the third phase is proximity seeking. In the fourth phase, the child adjusts to keep proximity with the caregiver in order to cope with his environment (Walters p 145).
While Chris continues to ask his son this question in moments of adversity, he does so more as a reassurance to his son that things will be OK. He also uses the question as a calming mechanism for his son. One such example is when they were first admitted to the homeless shelter and Chris needed to work on the broken bone density scanner. As Christopher lay in the bunk bed, Chris inched his way out of the room to work on the scanner asking “Can you hear me? ” which triggered an emotional response from his son.
Chris responded by asking him “Do you trust me? , which calmed Christopher down. Strange Situation” is used as a popular measurement device of infant attachment created by Mary Ainsworth. Ainsworth classified children in three different categories of attachment: secure attachment, ambivalent-insecure attachment, and avoidant-insecure attachment (A fourth attachment category was later added by other researchers, (Van Wagner 2009). The closeness and bond between the two meet the characteristics of a securely attached relationship. Chris did not meet his father until late in life and did not have an attachment to his father like the attachment he made with his son.
Chris “made up (his) mind as a young kid that when (he) had children they were going to know who their father is and that he isn’t going anywhere” (Gardner, n. d. ). This was the basis in which the development of the secure attachment is formed. The strong relationship was a result of the quality time they spent together. Chris played basketball with his son before going to an appointment, had insightful conversations, taught him things like how to spell happiness or the meaning of possibly, and showed love and affection with hugs and caress.
An individual characteristic of secure attachment is the child’s tendency to seek out their parents for comfort when they are scared (Van Wagner 2009). When Christopher was scared and did not know where they were going next, Chris comforted his son and made sure his son had something to eat and somewhere to sleep. Another characteristic of a secure attachment is that children do not experience significant distress when separated from caregivers (Van Wagner 2009).
Though Christopher would spend long days in child care, the secure attachment was apparent like through the emotion of happiness when reunited after school. Temperament has a great effect on the relationship among poverty, stress, and attachment. A study done by Alexander Chess and Stella Thomas identified three basic types of temperament. In the analysis, it was found that one type of temperament, an ‘easy child’, is described as “generally in a positive mood, quickly establishes regular routines in infancy, and adapts easily to new experiences” (Santrock, 2008, p. 59). In the movie, Christopher certainly portrays an easy child. Through all the hardships the family encountered, Christopher remained optimistic.
He understood that he and his father did not have much money. With the odds against them, the connection between Chris and Christopher proved that the quality of time together contributed to the success of their relationship. When they moved from their home to a motel, to a bathroom at the metro station, to a shelter, Christopher adapted with little complaints. Christopher’s easy temperament made situations less difficult.
According to some research, children who spent many hours in center-based care and in poor-quality child care centers showed more stress and were linked to more problems such as anxiety and aggressive behavior (Santrock, 2008, p. 371-372). Christopher, however, was not affected. The daycare seemed to be a stable part of Christopher’s life, depicting a routine. What little stress we see from Christopher, like realizing that they have to move from the motel, does not show any effect on his relationship with his father.
Again, it only proved the feat of their companionship. “The Pursuit of Happyness” is a wonderful portrayal of perseverance, love, and trust. Trust is the foundation of any relationship whether it is a husband-wife, girlfriend-boyfriend, BFF’s (best-friends-forever), or father-son. With the relationship of Chris and Christopher, we witnessed a secure relationship-attached in such a way that the father-son bond was unbreakable even in times of severe adversity. We analyzed a relationship where the answer to the question, “Do you trust me? ” is a resounding “Yes! ”
Black, T., Blumenthal, J., Tisch, S., Lassiter, J., & Smith, W. (Producers), & Muccino, G. (Director). (2006). The Pursuit of Happyness [Motion picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures.
Gardner, C. (n.d.). Christopher Gardner. Retrieved February 24, 2009, from Website: http://www.chrisgardnermedia.com/main/biography.htm
Harder, Arlene F. (2002) The Developmental Stages of Erickson Retrieved February 22, 2009 from http://www.learningplaceonline.com/stages/organize/Erikson.htm
Santrock, J. W. (2008). A Topical Approach to Life-Span Development. NewYork: McGraw-Hill.
Van Wagner, Linda (2009) Attachment Styles Retrieved February 22, 2009 from http://psychology.about.com/od/loveandattraction/ss/attachmentstyle.htm
Walters, Glenn D. (2000) Beyond Behavior: Construction of an Overarching Psychological Theory of Lifestyles London: Greenwood Publishing