Jennifer and Sarah Hart were a white married couple—that is, to each other. They had six adopted children, all of them black. What could be a more “political” family arrangement in this day and age? On the surface, a perfectly admirable one. On the surface, there was nothing but smiles and hugs. The children were home-schooled, further evidence of the Harts’ devotion to the children. But one gets the decided impression that these women were in some way selfish, establishing this family more for their own self-aggrandizement, and expecting in return for their “love” the same kind of unconditional love that they would expect from dogs.
Why such an unkind judgment? All was not apparently well in the large Woodland, Washington home of the Harts and their adopted children. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that there was some restlessness among the children, particularly the older ones, under the “control” of the Harts and their idea of “family.” What is known is that in 2011, Sarah Hart had been charged in Minnesota with physical abuse of one of the girls (letting her anger “get out of control”), and that one of their Woodland neighbors reported that one of the boys, Devonte, had been coming to their home nearly every day begging for food that he said was being withheld as “punishment.” Another of the adopted girls had reportedly begged a neighbor not to force her to go back to the Harts. Child protective services were subsequently contacted, but several attempts to gain access to the Hart home were apparently unsuccessful. A few days later, the San Francisco Chronicle reported this occurrence off Highway 1 in Mendocino County, California:
Stopped on a dirt pull-off along California’s picturesque Mendocino coastline, Jennifer Hart pointed her sport utility vehicle toward the sprawling Pacific Ocean and pressed her foot on the accelerator, officials said a preliminary investigation shows.
Moments after Hart punched the gas, authorities said, the 2003 GMC Yukon containing Hart’s wife and their six adopted children — three of whom have yet to be found — sped forward and continued accelerating as it pitched over a 100-foot cliff, sending everyone inside to their deaths.
No one in the vehicle was wearing their seatbelts, and it appears that while the Harts’ were crushed inside the vehicle that landed upside-down, the bodies of three of the children were found thrown clear of the vehicle—perhaps once realizing what was happening, they attempted to exit the vehicle, but it was going at such speed (the speedometer was “pinned” at 90 mph), that by the time they got out of the car it was already over the cliff. The three other children, also presumed dead, remain missing at this writing.
So I return to my original speculation. When the children didn’t behave like dogs grateful to their human masters for their care, and had the audacity to complain about the way they were being “cared” for, the Harts may have felt a sense of “betrayal” by the children and the penalty for this betrayal was one of the ultimate measure. Of course, we could consider the theory that this was not a murder-suicide, but that perhaps the Harts had convinced the children that the world was “against” them and that they would all voluntarily enter into a “suicide pact.” But that seems highly unlikely, since at least two of the children cared enough about living to seek out their neighbors for help from whatever it was that the Harts were doing to them.
There are other kinds of “love,” of course, ones whose boundaries go beyond the self-serving love-me-or-I-will-do-something-very-bad-to-you variety—like that of the recently paroled Clara Harris, who was convicted of murder by running over her husband three times with her car while his daughter by previous marriage watched in horror. There is also the kind of “love” of Gena Rowlands’ Gloria in the 1980 John Cassavetes’ film, a mob moll who with only the greatest reluctance gave up her comfortable, work-free existence in order to go on the run to protect a six-year-old Puerto Rican boy, whose entire family had been murdered by her gangster friends who she didn’t wish to antagonize at the risk of her own life.
After attempting to shoo-off the kid, the conflicted Gloria is in the next moment confronted by the moral dilemma of handing over the kid to her “friends” to certain death while she herself walks free. When a gun emerges from her purse and the bullets started flying, this comes as much a surprise to the viewer as it does to those friends; her life is now bound to the kid’s, and a previously forsworn maternal “instinct” takes over. Gloria is one “tough broad,” and is an “action” hero who is entirely human and believable and worthy of our empathy as adults, unlike your typical female “empowerment” characters today with their phony superhuman antics, often in the service of juvenile revenge fantasies.
Of course, Gloria is just a movie, a piece of fiction, but for me its story of what is ultimately an unselfish version of “love” certainly provides a counterpoint to the kind the Harts’ provided to their children.