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Ordinary People (1980)

Ordinary People, the 1980 directorial debut of actor Robert Redford is an excellent film that won several Academy Awards including Best Picture of the Year; it is also an excellent study of a dysfunctional family. Based on Judith Guest's novel, the plot centers on the deterioration of a family after the accidental death of the eldest son, Buck. The family survivors include the cold mother/wife Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), the passive father Calvin (Donald Sutherland), and the guilt-ridden younger teenaged son Conrad (Timothy Hutton), who returns home after a three-month stay in a mental hospital where he was sent after slitting his wrists, and where he underwent shock therapy among other treatments. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that this was a family with emotional problems even before the death of Buck.

In functional families, the needs of the individual family members are met, while in dysfunctional families like the Jarretts, the needs are not met. Functional families are willing to listen to one another and make compromises to meet each other's needs, but dysfunctional families are unwilling to do this, and therefore they cannot solve the problems caused by their family conflicts, challenges and tragedies. "Family therapists look for two things when a family crisis occurs: what went on in the families or origin, and what happened in the earlier stages of family life" (Rhodes & Wilson 215).

One of the dynamics of the Jarrett family is that Buck was the mother's favorite, and probably the father's as well. Beth felt that Buck was more like her, and after his death she started to resent Conrad, the son who survived the boating accident. Both brothers were on a lake when their boat tipped over, and Buck fell beneath the water and died. Beth's unresolved emotional attachment to her dead son adversely impacts her relationship with her surviving son, as well as with her husband. A cold person in general, she becomes even...

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Ordinary People (1980). (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 15:57, December 07, 2021, from