Movie Review by Gerti
I am a crier. I cry at a lot of things: movies, books, Hallmark commercials, dead animals by the side of the road. Just because I cry a lot doesn’t mean there aren’t things worth crying over, and this movie, “Ordinary People,” contains one of them. That is, I cried because a young man tried to kill himself. I cried because his mother was a cold fish who loved her dead son more than her living son. I cried because… because “Ordinary People” contains so many weep-worthy twists of emotion as I watched this family tear itself apart.
The story is a simple one. An upper-middle class family has two teenaged sons. Both went sailing on Lake Michigan. One died when their boat overturned, and the other is wracked with guilt at the death of his older sibling. The dead brother, Buck, was good at so many things, but the younger brother, Conrad, is the sensitive one, so he doesn’t see himself as strong. He tried to commit suicide after his brother died, but instead comes home from the hospital to find that his mother resents him for his brother’s death, for his suicide attempt, and in fact for everything he does that makes their family seem less than perfect to her friends. There is a beautiful scene where Con yells at his mom for never coming to see him in the hospital, and the father simply makes excuses for her. Hard to watch!
Con tries to solve his issues by going to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger, but his mother also finds that embarrassing. Con quits the swim team and tries to connect with other people, especially girls he knows, all in an attempt to find his true identity in the face of tragedy. He also tries to reconnect with his mother, but it becomes heartbreakingly clear that she is unavailable to him, that all she wants to do is get out of town, out of the country, away from her surviving son, and just play golf. The devastating aspect of it is that she tries to take Con’s father away, too, leaving Con no one within his household with whom he can communicate.
It all unravels eventually when Calvin, the father, confronts his wife about her coldness toward their surviving son. Instead of talking to him, or seeking psychiatric treatment, she chooses to pack her things and leave. But you get the feeling that abrupt as that action seems, it means good things for the two remaining family members, dad Calvin and son Conrad. The final scene shows them connecting outdoors (the house is poison?) and hope grows that their relationship will blossom in the absence of the cold, manipulative wife & mother.
The title is ironic, because this family is anything but ordinary with their wealth and their twisted relationships. But the two surviving members in the Lake Forest, Illinois household, dad and son, are seen as working toward a day when they will only be troubled by ordinary irritations - low grades at school, a weird swim coach, or unprofitable stock transactions. I love how the father, despite being browbeaten by his wife, reaches out to the son who needs him so desperately, which opens his eyes to the real cancer in the family, his aloof spouse. Must see.