How Does that Make You Feel?

Ordinary People is no ordinary Best Picture winner. It pretty much set the precedent for the cynical and often depressing 1980’s. Based on the 1976 novel by Judith Guest, Ordinary People deals with the aftermath of a son’s death and his brother who attempted suicide. A subject like this is guaranteed to draw acclaim from the Academy Awards. It was the best possible directorial debut for actor Robert Redford who ended up winning Best Director. The film is shot in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable and appropriately depressed. Even the “Canon in D Major” theme is depressing. Of course it’s also the unlikely cast that brings their best to Alvin Sargent’s Best Adapted Screenplay winning script.

The Jarrett family may seem ordinary on the surface, but they’re all dealing with grief a different way. Conrad is on edge after his suicide attempt caused by his brother Buck’s death in a boating accident. Flashbacks are used only when necessary. All we know is that he was recently released from a psychiatric hospital and trying to put his life back together. Yet Conrad quits the swim team, distances himself from his friends, and has problems at home. 20 year old newcomer Timothy Hutton became the youngest Best Supporting Actor winner with his complex performance. Arguably contributing to the surge in teen angst movies of the 80’s. A young Judd Hirsch was also nominated for his portrayal of Conrad’s caring no-nonsense psychiatrist Dr. Berger.

Conrad starts to feel better when he goes out with his crush Jeannie (played by a young Elizabeth McGovern), but even more tragedy holds him back. Conrad’s biggest obstacle is his own mother. After Kramer vs. Kramer, Beth became another seemingly coldhearted mother who retreats into her affluent lifestyle and doesn’t show her son affection. Lovable TV star Mary Tyler Moore is the last person you’d expect in a role like this, but she absolutely deserved her Best Actress nomination and Golden Globe win. Donald Sutherland shockingly wasn’t nominated for any Oscar, even though he’s just as good as everyone else. Calvin is a sensitive father trying to keep his family together and talking about their problems. Although movies like Raging Bull left a greater impact, Ordinary People sticks with you in a more personal way.

Ordinary People

Conrad tries to talk to his mother

4 thoughts on “How Does that Make You Feel?

  1. This one hits a little too close to home for me at times, this particular incident never occurred with me, but I knew a few people who went through something similar, so a film like this is just a little too depressing to see.

    Liked by 1 person

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