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Ordinary People

This research examines the motion picture Ordinary People from the standpoint of the psychotherapeutic helping relationship it depicts. The research will set forth the narrative context in which the relationship is established in the film and then discuss the counselor's behavior in its most and least helpful modes. Additionally, the research will examine cultural-diversity issues that emerge over the course of the film that have the effect of deepening its social and psychological verisimilitude.

The principal line of action in Ordinary People that gets the story to the point of depicting a counseling/helping relationship is governed by adolescent Conrad's difficulty adjusting to the sailing-accident death of his older brother Bucky. At the point of dramatic attack, Conrad has just returned home from a psychiatric hospital, in the wake of his suicide attempt in guilt over surviving the accident that killed his brother. Ostensibly, Conrad, his father Calvin, and his mother Beth each seem to want nothing so much as to get things back to normal, to resume their upper-middle-class suburban Chicago life. But of course "back to normal" is impossible, and in any case "normal" for the Jarrett family turns out to have been a veneer of privileged, comfortable, and superficial emotional experience masquerading as a full and loving family and civic life. Conrad's suicide attempt has damaged the veneer because it has brought troubling emotions and the dynamics of long-unresolved family pathology to the surface.

Now the only child in the family, Conrad is positioned as an interloper in his house because Beth, who cannot seem to do enough to recall family memories in terms of Bucky and not in terms of both boys or the family as a whole, is so detached as to seem on the verge of open hostility toward him. She is also cool toward her husband Calvin, as if the only one in the family she ever truly loved was Bucky. Then there is the social embarra...

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Ordinary People. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 10:14, February 22, 2017, from