Ordinary People (DVD, 2009)

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Your mother is not strong - Ordinary People (1980)

Aug 1, 2012 (Updated Aug 2, 2012)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:story, cast, cinematography,  important topic, frank discussion of grief and loss

Cons:made me bawl and use a whole box of tissues

The Bottom Line: a serious study of a broken family, engaging story, great cast, do not watch alone because it is so sad and yet so  triumphant




This is Robert Redford’s debut as a director, and it is a tour de force.  I can't find anything to criticize.  Well, maybe when a car is going faster than you could walk, yet it stays beside a girl who is walking.  

From the stunning visuals to the serious story of a damaged family, this film should have won Oscars for Judd Hirsch and Mary Tyler Moore, who were nominated but did not win.  However, it did win Oscars for Robert Redford and Timothy Hutton, as well as for Alvin Sargent for Best Screenplay Based on Material on Another Medium (it was based on a novel by Judith Guest).  It also won for Best Picture.   

They say that Mary Tyler Moore was tired of playing the perky, positive, cheerful roles   that she did so skillfully on television over the years, first opposite Dick Van Dyke and then as a single working woman in her own show.  

Well, while she is not exactly the villain in Ordinary People, she is anything but perky, positive or cheerful.  Beth Jarrett buries her feelings because she is not strong enough to bear her grief over the death of her older son, her favorite.  While it is not clear that she blames her younger son Conrad for the tragedy in which Buck drowned, it is clear that Conrad blames himself. 

It took me a minute to get over hearing people call him "Connie", since in my experience that has always been a girl's name, but the story is so engrossing that I soon forgot all about that minor twitch. 

The story centers on Conrad Jarrett (played by a very young Timothy Hutton), but the story of his mother Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore) almost steals the show.  Calvin Jarrett (Donald Sutherland) plays a father who seems lost in the role of a buffer between his wife and his son, who are feuding.  

Beth has a deep-seated need to control everything, to keep every little detail in perfect order.  This is best illustrated when Conrad apologizes to her for getting blood on her clean towels during his unsuccessful suicide attempt.  

All the major characters are played by great actors, but my favorite is Judd Hirsch as Dr. Tyrone Berger, the psychologist who counsels Conrad.  He listens actively, refusing to accept excuses and leading Conrad to see his own strength.    

This upper class family lives in a beautiful house that appears to sit on acres of land.  Their life ought to be wonderful, but they are all suffering the pain of loss.  Not only have they lost their oldest son, but they have also lost their relationships with each other.  They seem to be hobbling on crutches after having lost a leg.  

This movie made me bawl – not just cry, not just weep, but actually use up a box of tissues.  But it is not a chick flick, by any means.  It is a well-told tale of love and loss, and of weakness and strength. 

What I found most fascinating was the way in which Dr. Berger helped Conrad to find his own inner strength, while his mother seemed to lack any strength.  She wrapped herself in a cocoon to shield herself from all emotion, both positive and negative.  She was no longer able to enjoy life, and she was unable to acknowledge her own sorrow. 

The ending is something of a letdown, but it follows logically and is probably the best that such a family could achieve.


Recommend this product? Yes


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