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  • I was 16 years old in 1984 when I first saw this movie. I was also clinically depressed and suicidal. I had been on antidepressants for about a year (in the pre-prozac days) and I happened to see this movie on Showtime or HBO - almost by accident. Timothy Hutton perfectly captures what it's like to be depressed as a teenager. And Judd Hirsch and Hutton perfectly capture the patient/therapist relationship. There are also a few perfect little scenes that capture the problems of a family that can't communicate. Especially memorable is the scene where Calvin tells Beth about the shoes he wore to Buck's funeral. This film captures all of the important moments like this that truly demonstrate the problems the family is having. After seeing it, I read the book and I knew that if Conrad could go on, so could I. I watch this movie once every few years. It really means a lot to me.
  • I might consider putting this movie in my top 10 list of best movies. It's absolutely amazing that for his directorial debut, Robert Redford created such a masterpiece. Now it was not all due to him, as the story was so well-written and the acting is dead on for all the characters. Part of the reason I love it so much might be because I was a psychotherapist before becoming a school teacher (mid-life crisis, you know). And, having worked with dysfunctional families, this movie gets it right time and time again. Therapy is not a miracle cure that takes effect almost immediately (like in GOOD WILL HUNTING) and the parents BOTH have a strong role in keeping the family sickness alive. Donald Sutherland is the enabler who denies there is a problem--even after one son dies by accident and the other attempts suicide. He also cannot face that the family's dysfunction is mostly controlled and maintained by his very disturbed wife, played wonderfully by Mary Tyler Moore. She is not mentally ill but has a very sick personality, as she is cold as ice emotionally and deals with problems through massive amounts of denial as well as stuffing her anger WAY down deep. Timothy Hutton is, despite his being the patient, the healthiest one in the family, as his suicide attempt is a strong cry for help. Finally, Judd Hirsch plays the therapist--and one of the most realistically portrayed therapists on film. He has no miracle cure but tries his best to get Hutton, and later Sutherland, to work hard at uncovering their dysfunction. Again and again and again, the viewer is rewarded by a brutally honest script that is about people who would be real--not Hollywood's idea of "people". The film is neither manipulative nor condescending--this is the way more films SHOULD be.

    In addition, as I have watched the film several times, I keep noticing just how perfect the direction was. How wonderfully framed the shots were, how wonderfully the music fit in and how unflinching the movie dealt with pain. In particular, I love the scene with Sutherland at the psychiatrist's office as he talks about his marriage....and his eyes keep looking away and avoiding the doctor as he says how much he loves her. And the great Christmas photo scene--it just screams out "this is real!!". For this to be Robert Redford's directorial debut is absolutely amazing and he surely earned that Best Director Oscar.

    FYI--although this movie is rated R, it is only for language. There are a few REALLY CHOICE WORDS used here and there, but otherwise this is a great movie for teens. If filmed today, this would no doubt be a PG-13 film. I am a very conservative parent, and yet I found this to be totally acceptable for my 15 year-old. It's a great film to watch WITH your kids and discuss what you see.

    I cannot recommend a film more highly.
  • qdude44020 July 2005
    This is a powerful directing debut from Robert Redford, a great family drama that goes every which way but down. By the end, our thoughts have been altered a bit and its a film that leaves you thinking.

    Conrad, played brilliantly by Timothy Hutton in an Oscar winning role, is the depressed suicidal son of a couple struggling to cope with their son's drowning death. Conrad of course feels responsible, and has already tried to take his own life once before.

    Reluctantly, he begins to see a shrink at the advice of his father. Dr. Berger, also played brilliantly by Judd Hirsch {though there are no slouches in the cast}, helps Conrad through thick and thin. By the end of the movie, the audience truly feels for all characters to some degree.

    As has been stated, the acting is magnificent. The story may seem simple but this type of film really doesn't need a heavy plot. Its an excellent look at the problems we all face. When I first saw this at a young age I related completely to Conrad's character. When I saw this tonight, I related more to the adults and could really feel for them a lot more than I remembered. Each character has a unique sense of reality to them. The actors really carry the film, making the characters seem like real people we've known for years.

    Unfortunately this movie has received somewhat of a bad reputation over the years as the film that beat Raging Bull in 1980 for the Best Picture and Director Oscars. While both movies are excellent, its sad that one has to be better than the other and people just don't enjoy both movies for what they are. Many people have preconceived opinions about this 'small' film they have not heard of. After all, Raging Bull is an all time classic. Just watch this movie with an open mind, because it really works on every level as a powerful family drama detailing the persona of many different types of people.
  • MISSMOOHERSELF22 October 2004
    The perfect life of the perfect family is destroyed when the older of 2 sons dies in a sailing accident, leaving the parents and his younger brother to grieve, pick up and carry on. But how they accomplish this makes this movie a shattering but ultimately uplifting (in parts) experience.

    Buck Jarrett drowns after he and his younger brother, Conrad, go sailing on a questionable day. Later, Conrad, feeling the guilt of his brother's death, tries to commit suicide by slashing his wrists. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise because the true personalities of his parents, Cal and Beth, as well as his own ability to grow are revealed when Conrad returns from the psychiatric hospital after a 4-month stay.

    Conrad is given the name of Dr. Tyrone Berger, a psychiatrist (marvelously played by Judd Hirsch) who is unconventional to say the least. He dresses casually, drinks coffee he makes in his office and smokes incessantly (this is pre anti-tobacco). And he doesn't buy into the psychobabble practiced by many psychiatrists. At first, Conrad tells Dr. Berger he wants to gain control but what he really wants is to not feel - not feel the pain of his brother's death and what he believes is his part in it. But that unravels through a series of experiences he endures as the movie proceeds. In choir practice, Conrad is smitten with Jeannine Pratt (beautifully played by Elizabeth McGovern), a fellow singer who has an ability to recognize Conrad's pain without being amazed, horrified or judgmental. And Conrad also has a friend, Karen, (played nicely by Dinah Manoff)whom he'd met in the hospital and who can relate to his experiences there.

    Donald Sutherland as Cal, Mary Tyler Moore as Beth and Timothy Hutton as Conrad give outstanding, Oscar-caliber performances. Cal tries to keep his feelings hidden by wearing a mask of bravado, carrying on and functioning in a world that has taken his son away. He loves Conrad and also recognizes his pain and his alienation fom his mother though he realizes he can't "fix it." But it's Mary Tyler Moore's performance as Beth that is so amazing. She is plastic through and through and it gets to the point of being downright annoying and yet MTM's portrayal is perfect. Of all the characters, hers is really the most disturbed. She wants to have things exactly as they were even though she mourns the loss of her firstborn son. She can't love Conrad because he committed the one unforgivable sin - he survived while her favorite did not.

    Timothy Hutton, sadly, has never had a movie to top "Ordinary People." He has done other work, of course, (most notably in my opinion, "Taps") and can be seen currently as Archie in "Nero Wolf" on A&E. But his role as the troubled surviving son who rises from the pain in "Ordinary People" is truly magnificent and shattering. He earned the Oscar and he truly deserved it. And as he accepted his Academy Award, he remembered his father, actor Jim Hutton, who had died from liver cancer shortly before Timothy got the award. That was a classy thing to do. I hope Mr. Hutton gets another plum role like this one; everything else he has done since pales in comparison.
  • Ordinary People is an extraordinary motion picture for five reasons. The outstanding direction of Robert Redford, and the brilliant acting of Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Timothy Hutton and Judd Hirsch.

    This movie is set in suburban Chicago. The family is an upper-middle class foursome, the parents and their two sons. The eldest son, Buck, is killed in a boating accident. The other son, Conrad, survives but is riddled with guilt. His mother, Beth, who idolized her deceased first born, is cold with her surviving son. She looks at him and is reminded of the pain. Instead of nurturing her surviving child she distances herself from him. Conrad attempts suicide and spends time in a mental hospital. Calvin, the understanding father, is torn between his wife and son.

    Dr. Berger, a psychiatrist, is hired by the family to help the troubled young man. The scenes between Hutton and Hirsch are amongst the best in the movie. He helps Conrad understand his mother's pain and shortcomings and to stand on his own. Conrad tries to keep his family together and realizes, almost with relief, that the family's problems are caused by Beth's "burying all her love with Buck".

    This is a fascinating motion picture. The direction and the performances are superb. It is an intelligent, moving and honest examination about a family torn by grief and pain. Don't miss it!
  • As an aspiring screenwriter myself, I envy Alvin Sargent, the mastermind behind the script of the Academy Award winning 1980 drama "Ordinary People." Based on the equally as heartbreaking novel by Judith Guest, "Ordinary People" flawlessly captures all aspects of great cinema. The scenes have the perfect timing; the performances are vividly descriptive and entirely convincing; the direction is efficacious and focused. The filmmaker's never pretend that this movie is easy to watch, but they sure do produce an emotional and mental response from the viewer.

    "Ordinary People" launched Timothy Hutton's career, rewarding him with an Oscar. It's too bad his career as an actor seems to be traveling downhill. Although his award was for best actor in a supporting role, he is truly the center of the movie. Hutton plays Conrad Jarrett, the son of Calvin (Donald Sutherland) and Beth (Mary Tyler Moore). The Jarretts are recovering over various recent disasters. They lost their first born son to an accident, for which Conrad blames himself. His grief eventually provokes a failed suicide attempt.

    As the movie opens, we meet the family. We never witness Conrad's suicide attempt, the preceding family death, nor do we see anything than happens during his hospital stay. "Ordinary People" knows exactly where to start and what to show. It leaves a great deal to our imagination. It gives us freedom to put ourselves in the character's shoes. This is a realistic portrayal of a crippled family trying to mend with problems.

    Several key characters also contribute to the rehabilitation of Conrad. Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch), provides Conrad with psychological guidance; the high school swimming coach (E. Emmet Walsh) understands Conrad's condition, but still doesn't want the swim team to lose his talent; Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern) befriends the struggling Conrad; Karen (Dinah Manoff) another similarly hospitalized with Conrad, gives him some added confidence.

    "Ordinary People" took home Academy Awards for best picture, director, supporting actor, adapted screenplay, Mary Tyler Moore's deserving performance, and earned various other nominations, including the supporting performance by Judd Hirsch. It is clear why the film won so much praise by critics and audiences alike: we can clearly identify with the characters and their situation.

    The characters are beautifully written. I cannot remember the last movie I saw that so vividly captures individual lifestyles and personal tragedies. Every character plays an important role in Conrad's life. His father feels his son's suicide attempt is due to his poor parenting. The materialistic mom finds it difficult to contend with difficulties and to forgive her son for what he did to her public image. Conrad's problems evolve into larger, more complex issues of love, compassion, forgiveness, and our personal differences.

    The actors really deserve the crown here. If there was even one who did not live up to the great expectations, they would appear obvious and subtract from the film's emotional grasp. Timothy Hutton really portrays his character well. Every emotional aspect feels real, justified, and understood. Mary Tyler Moore portrays the film's potential villain believably as well. She makes is obvious that Beth would rather run from problems instead of dealing with them. After seeing Donald Sutherland in many recent film's that seem rather terse, I formed opinions about his credibility and ability that his performance here proves wrong. He is definitely a gifted actor when dealt good material. In this performance, easily the best of his career, he captures every minuet detail of a father struggling with his past, present, and future.

    "Ordinary People" shares much in common with 1999's best picture winner, "American Beauty." That was another great film, but "Ordinary People" contains debatably better material. "American Beauty" looked tragedy in the eye and found respect, mockery, and grace. "Ordinary People" never bestows comic material, however, but it does trace suffering to its root, and finds disorientation, embarrassment, and sorrow. This is not an easy movie to watch, but a challenging, perceptive, tragic story that you are not likely to forget.
  • triple812 December 2004
    I saw Ordinary People when I was very young and had a very difficult time with the storyline.However, even then I think I knew I was watching something simply remarkable. Even after all these years, it's impact has not lessened, which I guess is a mark of an incredible movie. The movie is among the most disturbing I've ever viewed and the performances, at least to me, are among the best. I can't imagine viewing this movie without feeling absolutely drained afterwards and I think I may have been a bit to young to fully appreciate it, but I can't imagine giving this anything but a 10, it was absolutely flawless in it's storytelling.

    I do think though, that a certain element of maturity is needed to view this, there are few I know who have not been touched or upset by the story and if one is to young or just not in the right mood to handle the heaviness(as I wasn't at the time),they may not be able to fully appreciate it. I still know people who cannot sit through this and I understand why but I hope this movie will be viewed by many who can handle it, it's impact is fierce, all the performances are incredible and Mary Tyler Moore's performance is among the best of any female lead ever.
  • "Ordinary People" deserved its Oscar. There was such fierce competition in 1980 that winning the award was a real honor. The movie should have shared honors with "Coal Miner's Daughter".

    Having said that, the reality of the movie is so heartbreaking and so real that you feel every emotion and understand the characters feelings, whether you liked them or not. Mary Tyler Moore's performance of Beth Jarrett is so powerful that you forget Moore's comedic repertoire and immerse yourself into her persona as a cold, distant wife that can not show emotion for her son. It is disturbing that Beth can not show Conrad love and it breaks your heart when you see the awkwardness as he tries so hard to get any love or recognition from her. Her breakdown scene at the golf course and the realization at the end of the movie that she is incapable of affectionate love are powerful performances.

    Donald Sutherland's understated and beautiful performance is brilliant. His making up for Beth's shortcomings as an affectionate human being are so touching. He does all he can to keep the rest of his family together. Why he was not nominated for an Oscar is beyond comprehension.

    Timothy Hutton absolutely shines as the troubled Conrad. All you want to do is hug him, love him, after his rejections from his own mother. The torture and pain he is in is portrayed so stunningly. His guilt over the death of his brother and subsequent depression are heartbreaking.

    Growing up in suburban America, the film rings many a truth to the insights of what people perceive as a "normal family". The cocktail parties, the school activities, the socialization of Beth and her friends over the recognition of her son do happen in suburban America. Robert Redford recognized every real detail of the facades that people put up and the reality of what happens at home. They are poignantly and chillingly realized.

    Definitely one of the most deserved Best Picture Oscars given. Please don't miss this one.
  • This film, without a doubt, is the best dramatic film I have ever seen. It is truly an extraordinary film of humanity. To start out, the film begins in complete silence and gently flows into Pachalbel's "Canon in D". It has become my favorite movie and I can say with 100% certainty that it deserved every Oscar it received. I cannot truly articulate with words what this movie did to me when I first saw it. I had an epiphany-like experience. I was born in 1980 and didn't see this film until shortly after I turned 19. The events portrayed by Timothy Hutton, Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch, Elizabeth McGovern, Dinah Manoff, and Fredric Lehne are just as powerful and relevant in society today as they were 20 years ago. Timothy Hutton's performance of Conrad Jarrett, an 18 yr-old suffering from depression after the tragic death of his older brother is extraordinary. Being the age Hutton was when he made the film, when I first saw it twenty years later, I related to the emotions on every note. Teenagers are rarely portrayed in film as realistically as in real life. In my opinion, Conrad Jarrett in "Ordinary People" is the best portrayal on film of a teenage boy going through the good times and the bad, but mostly the bad. Timothy Hutton is a truly amazing actor. Mary Tyler Moore also deserved all of the praise and nomination for a role that is literally the opposite of anything she had ever played before. The way she portrayed the cold, cruel, yet emotionally-hidden Beth Jarrett is outstanding. Donald Sutherland and Judd Hirsch also gave performances that made them truly believable as Calvin Jarrett and Dr. Berger. Sutherland should have received an Oscar nomination. Elizabeth McGovern and Dinah Manoff's small character roles as Jeannine Pratt and Karen are just as vivid as in the novel. Jeannine provides the excellent uplift in the story; while Karen provides the semblance of reality that things are not as they seem. Every line and every scene in this film is as detrimental to the overall underlying theme as it is in the novel by Judith Guest. The words "I love you" and "love" have an immense importance in this film. Kudos to Robert Redford, who shows that he is not only an excellent actor, but also a truly excellent director. The color scheme, music scheme, setting in Lake Forest, Illinois and that "perfect" home all provide the exact backdrop to the circumstances going on between these characters and within Conrad himself. This film relies solely on the realistic interaction between "ordinary" people living through "extraordinary" circumstances. This film had an amazing impact on me and I'm sure it will do the same for anyone else who sees it. If you do not leave this film having gained that underlying insight that this film gives, then you did not truly understand the purpose of the film. You don't have to suffer from depression or go through the loss of a loved one to understand the message delivered by this film. It's definitely more than just a "tissue" movie. Truly one of the best films ever made.

    A 10 out of 10.
  • I saw this movie in a very old theatre in Maastricht, Netherlands. I was astonished by the beauty of the plot, the character played by Timothy Hutton and Donald Sutherland. The most impressive thing was at the end. Everybody left the theatre in complete silence. People were touched and had tears in their eyes. This movie moves people. It is a story so close to reality and so well played by the actors. One really hates Mary Tyler-Moore at the end for being a bitch first class, a mother with no feelings for her youngest son. Judd Hirsch is very funny in acting as a psychologist. He plays it so naturally as if he had seen one for several years. In my opinion Robert Redford directed his best movie ever in Ordinary People.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Excellent adaptation of a wonderful novel by Judith Guest.

    An all-American family called the Jarretts are falling apart. The two sons were in a boating accident--one died and the other Conrad (Timothy Hutton) survives. But he feels guilt over surviving and tries to commit suicide. He's institutionalized and the movie starts when he returns home from the hospital. His mother (Mary Tyler Moore) is cold, distant and unemotional. His father (Donald Sutherland) tries to act like everything is cheerful and fine. Conrad goes to see a psychiatrist (Judd Hirsch) to find out how--and if--he can deal with this.

    A multi-Oscar winner (Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor) this is a very quiet but emotional film. Director Robert Redford (his first film as a director) doesn't push things in your face or hit you over the head with screaming or yelling--he quietly lets the dialogue and acting explain the characters and situations.

    All the actors are in top-notch form--Moore is superb as Beth, the mother. Before this she was just known for doing comedy and being perky. Here she plays a repressed, emotionally unavailable woman--you can see her holding back and feel her breaking--just great. She was nominated for Best Actress and should have won. Sutherland is stunning as the father struggling to deal with his son and wife. Hutton is perfection--you can see the anger and guilt in his character. I was never too crazy about Hirsch in this movie--he comes across as way too cold and critical--still his scenes with Hutton are among the best in the movie. Also Elizabeth McGovern (in her film debut) is sweet and appealing as Conrad's girlfriend.

    Beautifully shot, exceptionally well-acted...a truly great movie. And don't miss the gorgeous opening montage of Lake Forest IL. A 10 all the way.
  • The setting for this movie is seemingly appropriate for characterizing frustrations...The North Shore!!...Chicago's sequestered citadel of professional and avaricious elitism...A three million dollar home, trips to Europe, your kids going off to the most expensive colleges in the country, remodeling your kitchen every couple of years, and, your work-less, socially active wife being a permanent fixture at Marshall Fields!! All of these trademarks of success are taken for granted, and, they are merely expectations for the ultimate definition of a quiet bedroom community!! Acquisition of status is no longer excitement, it is, in fact, a given...The only devastating misconception to this entire scenario is that people living in the North Shore are not superhuman, they are merely overburdened, socially, financially, physically, mentally and, as this film so brilliantly depicts, EMOTIONALLY!! There is a prevailing mentality of a mandated and bothersome agenda that all of the characters in this movie must adhere to!!...The Jarretts (Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton) are a family who are shattered by perpetual tragedy and isolation, each one of them does not know what to do about the fact that the other son, Buck, has died, and Conrad (Timothy Hutton) has attempted to commit suicide!! So much of this film deals with how the misunderstanding of each other is the monster that will win out!!.. Perseverence is something that the mother thinks she can handle, but, in fact, she cannot!! The son, Conrad, lacks the necessary social stamina for the incredibly tedious task of sustaining! Finally, the father needs a bevy of facts to gather up in order for him to attain a pleasant resolve by which everyone in his family may live by!!.. This catastrophic dilemma is answered with social gatherings, vacations, an inordinate preoccupation with moral facades, and expensive therapy!! The bottom line is that a tragic undermining to every critical situation in this movie continuously prevails! Ultimately, this troublesome circumstance is such whereby Conrad and his parents need more time than this movie allows to heel all wounds even on a superficial level...Director, Robert Redford, has an incredible insight in this movie, and many white collar executive households share the exacerbations and misgivings of financial competition that this Lake Forest household had to endure!!..."Ordinary People" won for best picture in 1980, and, it is no wonder...The despondence the Jarretts faced was a horror story that could teach Stephen King a couple of tricks... The Mother feels as though she must create an illusion of contentment to the outside world, even if it is at the risk of neglecting her family's needs...Masquerading pretenses seems to have become her self-centered pet project...The father, while well intentioned, is meager and adolescent in his approach to coping with the household's turbulent consternation..It is almost as if he expects a resolution to his family's problems to be put in his stocking on Christmas morning...The son, Conrad, just resigns himself to misery and arctic desolation!! The overall predicament in this film has a frightening simplicity... The Jarret's aggregate plight is that they are alone, unhappy and confused!! Judd Hirsch is terrific as the shrink who feels sorry for this high school kid (Conrad). Conrad Jarrett is compelled to have therapy sessions with him,(Judd Hirsch). As a psychiatrist, he knows that he has to go through professionally therapeutic procedures to actually help him out...The greatest help he can offer Conrad is that he must convey to him that his problems can only be solved one step at a time. This psychiatrist (Judd Hirsch) cannot simply utter some miracle mumble jumble like Conrad's father expects him to do!! "Ordinary People" is about ordinary, well to do, upper middle class people, these are people who constantly admonish themselves for making mistakes!! They perennially imitate wealthy people, which means they are continuously fighting a losing battle! Genuine problems such as a son attempting suicide have to take a back seat to endeavors which are along the line of status games and pusillanimous charades of compulsory escalation into the realm of social register advancement!!.. Just another $250,000.00 yearly income household...ho hum!!...What is bothering you? "Everything!!" "Did we say that"..."We mean to say that nothing at all is bothering us"....The purpose of a two acre piece of property is not to be a voice in the wilderness.. Apocalyptic human pitfalls rest on apathetic shaky grounds in Chicago's North Shore Suburbia, and, they are indiscriminately shelved off into a dubious haven of callous anonymity!! Calvin Jarrett is plagued by the shattering realization of just how pitiful it is to have to attend your own son's funeral!! Tragedy fights dirty pool when it will not even allow the Jarretts to know exactly what the unanswered questions are in their dreadfully befuddled lives!! This situational dilemma manifests itself by pointing out several acrimonious facts: People who seem alright may not be. Household upheaval and family hardships will go quite awhile before they are even mollified. Also, the beautiful cinematography of the deciduous Lake Forrest autumn erupts as a polar opposite to what emotional ugliness lurks in the Jarrett's domicile!! This movie concludes at a glimmer of hope for Conrad, which symbolizes a demoralizing, and almost hopelessly rudimentary progress for the entire Jarrett Family, YES!! this is very, very, very, DEPRESSING!!! Unfortunately, this situation is extremely realistic! "Ordinary People" is an outstanding movie for a variety of reasons.. Mostly for the fact that it illustrates how clinical depression cannot be instantly cured just because there are only 18 minutes left to the movie!! I give it five stars out of five stars!!!
  • gcd7026 August 2007
    Warning: Spoilers
    "Ordinary People" is a beautiful drama based upon Judith Guest's novel brought wonderfully to the screen thanks to Alvin Sargent's simple but balanced screenplay adaptation, and Robert Redford's splendid direction (his directorial debut).

    The acting in this immensely moving drama is superb and wonderfully controlled, with each character realistically portrayed scene after scene. Timothy Hutton, Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland are all excellent, while Judd Hirsch is fantastic as young Conrad's psychiatrist.

    The whole film is very well complimented by Johann Pachelbel's "Kanon", which is beautifully arranged and used brilliantly. Probably the most moving drama I have ever seen, this winner of four Academy Awards gets top marks!

    Wednesday, February 5, 1992 - Video

    Without a doubt the best drama ever brought to the screen. Robert Redford's amazing directorial debut is superlative, the whole cast are brilliant and the screenplay, editing and music is all perfect.

    It is not enough to call this movie heart-rending. "Ordinary People" is so real and so moving, I find the entire film flawless. With the risk of repeating myself, Hutton, Hirsch, Tyler Moore and Sutherland are all utterly convincing. Superb!

    Sunday, August 23, 1992 - Video
  • randeclip-116 January 2006
    Warning: Spoilers
    Their world is truly a perfect place; with its groomed lawns and freshly painted homes, and even the people are polite, proper, and happy with life- or so we are led to believe. Robert Redford brings us this perfect world with its perfect people only to show us the imperfections that are so well hidden and are never supposed to be seen. Ordinary People is the story of a families struggle to accept the death of a son and its consequences on all who are left. The main character that is highlighted in the story is the younger son Conrad. Having recently returning home from a mental hospital after an attempted suicide, he is the primary victim of this tragedy. He was on the boat when his brother "Buck" drowned, and he blames himself for his death. The parents are almost polar opposites. The father is desperately trying to keep the family together and to understand what is happening, while the mother is seen to ignore everything and continue to uphold all the pretense that is her life. Also featured in this film is Conrad's psychiatrist Dr. Burger who serves as a means of telling the background story as well as to help the family in realizing their true situation.

    I first saw this film twenty years ago as part of a high school field trip. The theater was filled with high school seniors and we wondered who thought up the bright idea of seeing this "Boring" film. This thought went on for about the first ten minuets then we were all engrossed in it. I distinctly remember the gasp of the audience when Conrad receiver the news of his friends suicide over the phone. That gasp was missing in this viewing of the film. I can only attribute it to the age of the audience. The odd thing about seeing this movie after so many years was that the first time I saw it I was seeing it from the son Conrad's eyes. This time I looked at the story and felt more for the father. I suppose age can change a perspective that one views a story from. The gasp was voiced from a room full of Conrad's twenty years ago where this time we were a room full of parents sympathizing with his plight. The ability of a director in being able to tailor a film to his audience, even years later, is a noteworthy achievement. Ordinary People was and still is a great film.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I could not take my eyes off "Ordinary People", a brutally honest look at moving on after tragedy. Robert Redford pulls no punches, minces no words, and doesn't sugarcoat a single, painful scene as the story of a suburban family and the secrets they share unfolds.

    Athletic, popular Buck Jarrett was the town's Favorite Son... and clearly a favorite son of his mother, WASP-ish Beth (Mary Tyler Moore, boldly playing against type). But when Buck dies during a boat accident, he is survived by his insecure, mild mannered brother Conrad (Timothy Hutton), who incurs Beth's passive aggressive wrath. While meek father Cal (Donald Sutherland) struggles to keep the peace, Conrad seeks the help of a hard nosed psychiatrist (Judd Hirsch) and begins his journey of recovery from survivor's guilt and learns that pain in life is always better than the alternative.

    What makes "Ordinary People" stand out from other movies is the fact that it shows, rather tells. That, combined with Moore's peerless performance, reveals how little Beth thinks of poor Conrad. Take a breakfast scene, for instance, where Conrad refuses the French toast Beth makes for him. While Beth chatters on about her plans, she roughly shoves the French toast down the garbage disposal, saying, "You can't save French toast!" Or a devastating scene that takes place late on a school night. Conrad's light is on when he should be asleep... and Beth breezes by his room without so much as a glance. It is powerful stuff.

    This is one of the best cast ensemble dramas I've ever seen. Hutton rightly won an Academy Award as the damaged Conrad. He bravely goes through torturous emotional scenes that threaten to tear your heart to shreds. Sutherland is also sympathetic as Cal, a man who has to choose between saving his son or his marriage. Moore, however, owns this movie. I wanted to write off Beth as simply a villain... but I just couldn't. This is a woman who believes in hiding ugly emotions, in placing reputation over familial love, and who flies off on vacation when things get rough. Yet Moore makes Beth someone who, at one time, might have been a truly lovable person, but allowed that part of her to die along with her son. Hirsch is darkly humorous as the rough edged Dr. Berger, and a young Elizabeth McGovern is appealing as a sweet classmate Conrad shows an interest in.

    "Ordinary People" is a complex film that refuses to point fingers or go for easy answers, but reveals how there are no happy endings in life; rather, precious moments of joy we should savor in spite of, and because of, the pain.
  • The opening shots are the peaceful but misty waters of Lake Michigan. Why is the lake the first shot? Eventually the scenes change to the sleepy suburban area off the coast of Lake Michigan in Lake Forest, Illinois. The town is very reminiscent of small communities in New England, with the beautiful golden leaves of Fall layering the roads and the gardens. Finally the camera rests upon a high school choir singing a transcribed rendition of Pachabel's Canon. The camera pans the many high school students contributing their sound to the musical collective. This will be a story about a certain high school student among these singers. Finally the camera rests on Conrad Jarrett played by Timothy Hutton. He is an ordinary person of high school age, or is he? In the next shot, he is jumping from sleep in a cold sweat as if from a nightmare. Something is amiss...

    Next we meet his parents, Beth Jarrett, played by Mary Tyler Moore in not only the role of her career but a tour De force Oscar-caliber performance, and her husband, Calvin Jarrett, played by Donald Sutherland in probably his finest performance. At first they seem to be a contented happy middle-aged couple on the upper-crust of society. They go on many vacations during the holidays, they have the finest clothes, they go to expensive restaurants and plays, and they hop-nob with the social elite of the community. Calvin is a tax attorney making very good money, enough to afford his stay-at-home wife who keeps their house neat and orderly akin to Martha Stewart. When she's not placing expensive napkins on the dinner table, she is either shopping or playing golf. All seems well. Or is it?

    Their only son, Conrad, is having trouble sleeping and eating. He's aloof with his friends at school, sometimes not looking at them when they are talking to him. And his mother acts, well, strangely toward him--not quite a healthy and nurturing mother-son relationship. As the story gradually unfolds we gather pieces about this family and find that not everything is as it seems. One of the most brilliant aspects of this film is its pacing. Pieces of back-story are brought gradually to the forefront. Each piece of the larger mosaic, one that is much greater than the time-frame of the actual story, comes to light only with great effort. There is a sense that the characters are purposefully engaged in hiding the larger back-story away like skeletons in the closet. When Conrad undertakes to see the psychiatrist Dr Berger, he claims that family, school, aka everything is "fine" to which Berger replies "Then why are you here?" The two things we begin to gradually understand is that Conrad was not the only son but he had an older brother now deceased. We also learn that Conrad had been in the hospital because of an attempted suicide. But these raise more questions than they answer. For one thing, with all this back story, why does the story take place at this time and place? Why did Conrad attempt suicide? How did his brother die? The answers lie somewhere within the waters of Lake Michigan...

    This story may not only be about what happens to its characters, and the crises they ultimately must face. On one level, the story is a commentary on the false perception of "ordinary" or "normal" people. Particularly in America, we often have a false perception of the "norm". People raise families, bare children, see them off to college, etc, etc. With these larger generalities we often miss the struggles, the disappointments, the trauma, and even the tragedy that many experience, but often regarded as not happening to "normal" or "ordinary" people. Ironically, the character of Beth wants to give off the false but "nice" veneer of normalcy. At one point, she rages at Calvin for revealing at a social event that their son has started to see a psychiatrist. Beth sees friends at shopping malls and at parties, but she could not bare to have any of her fellow socialites know about any of the things that are really going on. And even when she is confronted by her husband to deal with their issues, she wants to go on vacation rather than the face the realities around her.

    In many ways, "Ordinary People" is about secrets. The upper-crust of American society has a tendency to keep things shut within large 2-story houses with manicured lawns in front. Many have felt that if they revealed their dark secrets they would be judged as being "abnormal" by their peers. In many ways, the tragic message is that many others have these same problems and secrets, but they do not understand that revealing them to others could help the healing process. Ordinary people are not ordinary people, in other words, but we do not yet know this. A philosophical book once said, "There are no such things as ordinary moments."
  • ORDINARY PEOPLE was a nearly perfectly mounted, intense, emotionally draining motion picture drama, based on the novel by Judith Guest which was the first directorial effort of Robert Redford, who received one of the film's five Oscars. This deeply moving drama follows an affluent Chicago family, still feeling the after effects of the death of their oldest son, and the guilt the younger son is still wrapped up in, four months after being released from a mental hospital. Timothy Hutton won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his beautifully modulated performance as Conrad, the tortured teen who feels "onstage" after returning to school and cannot connect with his mother (Mary Tyler Moore), who he feels loved his brother more than he loved her and Donald Sutherland is the agonized husband/father trying to keep the peace between his wife and son, clueless anymore as how to do so. Judd Hirsch also scores as Conrad's psychiatrist, who helps him to get to the root of his guilt. But what I went away from remembering about this movie was the astonishing performance by Mary Tyler Moore as Beth Jarrett. I never imagined Moore could play a character so icy and emotionally cold, almost unfeeling at times. Throughout most of the film, she refers to Conrad as "he" or "him". She never uses his name. She has one brilliant moment near the end of the film where Hutton gives her a hug and she just physically recoils from the touch of her own son. It's a chilling and brilliant moment, perfectly executed by Moore. Sissy SPacek won the Best Actress Oscar that year for COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, but IMO, there was nothing done on screen by any actress that year that was better than Moore's performance in ORDINARY PEOPLE. She should have won the Oscar and any other awards that were available. Just breathtaking work from a surprisingly unexpected source.
  • bacoby1325 March 2001
    I don't think I've ever watched a movie that has made me sit up and shake. I was laying on my couch watching this movie, and when the part where Conrad calls Karen and gets the news, I just was shocked. The gritty reality of it all was just so well done. I'm 17 years old, about the same age as Conrad, and I just connected so well with the character. Finally, a movie that makes you connect. American Beauty is pale in comparison to this movie. I personally loved the Ice Storm better than Beauty. But, all in all, Ordinary People is better than both. I love character studies, where movies are character based, and that there is pretty much one character in the movie you can relate to. Tim Hutton's Conrad was so perfect, so intensely real it made me sick to watch. Mary Tyler Moore was just excellent,and deserved an Oscar for it. Donald Sutherland played the father so softly and so calmly that at the end when he breaks down, it is so poignant and powerful, you can't help but feel for him. Robert Redford did such a great job at capturing emotions on film, something I think Beauty lacked. That film was more plot based as someone wrote earlier, and I can agree. All I have to say, is that I've found a new favorite film, right up there with Billy Wilder's The Apartment (again a great Character movie) and Fight Club (just an all around great film). See this film. If your 17 or 45 you'll find some connection. I give Ordinary People 10 out of 10.
  • An amazing movie from the first year of the decade, by a director in an unparalleled directing debut. I've always enjoyed Robert Redford more as a director than an actor, and when this movie came out, I remembered being very dubious about seeing it. (Word of mouth at the time was pretty amazing, though, and that's what prompted me to get over it.) But once seen (and re-seen several times), I have made a point of catching all of Redford's directorial efforts and I'm rarely disappointed.

    I won't rehash the plot, others have done a good job of that, but I will say that this is much more a character study of a family than it is plot-driven. So many character studies are somewhat contrived ("Rosebud" anyone?*), but this felt so *real*, real family dynamics, real behaviors, real reactions and interactions. And the simplest subtlest scenes tell most of the story. For example, pay attention to a scene early in the movie between the son, Conrad, and his mother in the upstairs hallway. The attention to detail is stunning, and yet barely noticeable unless you're looking for it. All you know is that you have suddenly grasped a whole new level of understanding about these characters. Mary Tyler Moore is, if you'll forgive the cliché, a revelation. Especially for those of us who grew up with her sitcoms.

    That said, as the plot does unwind through the experiences of each family member, it does ultimately pack a pretty hefty emotional wallop, as in the kind you thought you should have seen coming, and didn't. It still gets me every time.

    This movie doesn't get nearly the attention as a "classic" that it deserves. See it and I'd guarantee you'd help change that.

    * And for you Welles fans out there, no offense, I do appreciate that Citizen Kane represented a whole new way to make a movie and respect Orson Welles' presence in the canon of breakthrough/visionary movie makers.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It is said that tragedy is the mettle which tests us. In this haunting, lyrical adaptation of the novel, we watch as a seemingly perfect family unravels before our eyes after a tragedy strikes them. Watching them cope, and in some cases, not cope, provides the thought provoking story of this award winning movie.

    The Jarretts seemed to be the perfect American family, until they lost their elder son, Buck (Scott Doebler, seen only in flashbacks), in a boating accident. Younger son, Conrad (Timothy Hutton), has such a case of survivor guilt that he attempts suicide. As the film opens, this has all taken place already, and Conrad has been released from the mental hospital he was placed in after his suicide attempt. He is trying to resume his life with his parents (Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore). This is proving difficult for him as his mother favored Buck, and seems unwilling to forgive Conrad for surviving where his brother didn't. His father is caught in the middle, trying to give Conrad the support he needs, while dealing with his wife, who simply wants to blame Conrad for all of their troubles. Added into the mix is Conrad's therapist (Judd Hirsch) who helps the boy deal with his conflicted feelings.

    Everything about this film is superb. The writing peels away at the layers of the story like an onion, finally revealing the tragedy at the heart of the story, and the ongoing tragedy of one whose refusal to cope with the situation holds back all of those around her.

    The film is beautifully shot, each scene allowing time for the audience to absorb what has happened before moving on to the next.

    The performances are superlative. Judd Hirsch provides an excellent portrayal of a caring counselor who helps Conrad forgive himself. Elizabeth McGovern gives a sweet performance as Conrad's love interest. Donald Sutherland excels as the father who wants to keep his family together, only to realize it can't be done, and a painful choice must be made. Mary Tyler Moore gives a stunning performance as a woman whose warmth to those outside her family is matched by her coldness to her surviving son. Moore manages to make Beth human rather than a caricature, giving the film a richness that adds to it immeasurably. Carrying the film is a young Timothy Hutton, whose pain is practically palpable, and whose personal growth at the end has you cheering for him.

    A haunting film, which stays with you long after the last frame has faded away.
  • A searing dysfunctional family drama that holds up very well today.

    Living on Chicago's north shore as I do, I can say with authority that this movie completely nails a certain kind of affluent north shore community that exists in Chicago suburbs like Lake Forest, Winnetka, Highland Park, etc., places where people erect hedges and fences not so much to keep people out as to keep family problems and secrets in. Director Robert Redford and writer Alvin Sargent clearly understand their subject matter. And in fact, this film so closely mirrors many of the personal circumstances of my wife and her family (my wife even established a productive relationship with a Jewish therapist who works out of Skokie, no less), that we joke that the film is really about her. Maybe it's my closeness to the subject matter that gives me my appreciation of the movie, but even without that I still think that I'd consider this film to be a superb drama, flawlessly acted.

    Speaking of the acting, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch and Timothy Hutton were all recognized with Academy Award nominations (Hutton won) for their work in this film, all deservedly. Moore especially is memorable in her portrayal of a brittle power mom who must constantly hide behind a veneer of icy aloofness for fear that one tiny crack in her facade will send her crumbling to pieces. But two other actors deserve praise as well: Donald Sutherland, as a suffering father who's ill-equipped to deal with his family's problems yet whose heart is in the right place; and Elizabeth McGovern, who brings a sense of normalcy and healthiness into the film like a fresh breeze off Lake Michigan.

    There's a lot of talk about whether this film is better than "Raging Bull," which came out the same year and lost the Best Picture Oscar to "Ordinary People," which only goes to show how lame award competitions are when it comes to movies -- how can you possibly compare the two? See them both.

    Grade: A
  • severin7211 January 2007
    Robert Redford's debut as a director really is that good. From Judith Guest's novel about an outwardly prosperous American family struggling with the loss of the beloved older son Redford, and screenwriter Alvin Sargent have crafted a beautiful "actor's film". This is not in the sense of a "Glengarry Glenross" where there is a pervasive theatrical sensibility and all is driven by the dialog. Many of the finest touches here are unspoken. It's the best-case scenario for a film directed by an actor (and one of under-rated talent at that). The performances are flawless all around. If top honors are to be awarded they might best go to Moore. Playing against well established type she crafts a superbly observed and all too believable character; a woman who has let her visceral habit of self-protection get so out of control it has utterly crushed her humanity. Hutton (who won an Oscar) and Sutherland are also superb as the the husband and surviving son, the other two legs of the highly unstable familial tripod. Look also for fine supporting work from the likes of James Sikking, Elizabeth McGovern, and M. Emmet Walsh. I confess to being a complete stranger to the milieu of the American preppy class (how "ordinary" are these people? I don't know anyone with a live-in maid.) but the representation of them and their world seemed, to me at least, meticulously realized - right down to maybe the most extensive collection of sweaters ever assembled on screen. Redford's done some good work since but with "Ordinary People" he started off at the top and found there was only one place to go. No matter. He's left us with a truly brave piece of film-making, never making easy choices, and staying true to each and every memorable character to the end.
  • When this film came out in 1980, I saw it 17 times in the first 30 days. I have seen it a total of 34 times. It is still the movie I think is the best film ever made. The entire cast was first rate and it was a shame that Mary Tyler Moore could not have at least tied with Sissy Spacek for Best Actress at the Oscars. Donald Sutherland should have been nominated and Timothy Hutton should have been in the Best Actor category. It is Robert Redford's shining moment in film history. I know that after all these years, many critics think Raging Bull should have won Best Picture, but, for once, the Academy picked the right one, unlike this year, with Crash winning over Brokeback Mountain. Ordinary People is the greatest American Film of the 20th Century.
  • The debate regarding how Raging Bull should have won the Best Picture Academy Award over Ordinary People in 1980 apparently has more to do with how poorly received this masterpiece is than what a lasting effect it had. Perhaps many viewers just couldn't sympathize with what I think is a typical problem in American families that our mothers and fathers disagree and often play favorites with their own children. Inevitably someone will be left out and if it's you, a tough road lies ahead. Ordinary People is a vivid portrait of this reality and it's fair to assume that Terms of Endearment, The Ice Storm, and American Beauty would not exist without it's critical success. Ordinary People defined the American family genre and gave it the strength to march on. Looking back on the last twenty years I can say with ease that while Ordinary People pre-dated it's present counterparts it remains the absolute best of the family genre films. It did not require strange speeches about masturbation and over-acting by Annette Bening (American Beauty) to get it's point across. It rose above the abyss of the TV-movie that defines Terms of Endearment. It did not require an ice storm (reliance on plot over character) to show how unfeeling the characters were (The Ice Storm). Instead it delved into the hearts and minds of every character and trusted enough in it's actors to rise above the top-notch material they were given to work with.

    It all began when Mary Tyler Moore appeared on the screen and I thought to myself "This will never work, she's Mary Tyler Moore for goodness sakes! We adore her and she is always incredibly funny." Was I ever wrong. I thought back recently to all of the incredible roles we have watched that merited Academy Awards for leading actresses. Mary Tyler Moore puts to shame the other best performances in Oscar history, Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice and Vivien Leigh in Gone with Wind and Moore never even won. What was so incredible was her resolve to play this difficult role as mother Beth Jarrett straight and unphased, she never smiled unless with Donald Sutherland in a scene and even when Timothy Hutton reached out to her as Conrad, the way she looked at him with so much hate said more than 1000 words could ever say. What made the role so amazing was the ability by Mary Tyler Moore to relentlessly say with her face what her mouth could not find the words for. And Moore did it all so effortlessly and chillingly without breaking a sweat.

    Donald Sutherland has been vastly under-appreciated in his role as father and husband. I have always been fond of his work in Ordinary People because that guy is my own father and I believe countless fathers in the United States. He's a tax attorney that like a lot of baby-boomer dads let's his son make mistakes and go on his own path, but is there for him no matter what he does. While Beth Jarrett breaks down because of the embarrassment that she believes the family will incur from Conrad's suicidal tendencies, Donald Sutherland acts as a life-preserver for the sinking ship that is his son's life. He can take it because for goodness sake this is his son, and he just doesn't care what the neighborhood will think. His ego in this pursuit is at direct odds with Beth Jarrett's and it ultimately tests the marriage. Not enough praise can be given to Sutherland in this performance.

    Certainly much ink has been spilled about Timothy Hutton in his break-out performance and first feature film and his Academy Award was very well deserved. There is something very significant about a boy so cut off from real society because of his mother's behavior that he is forced to get her attention through extreme measures. When Conrad tries to be the adult and dispel Beth's embarrassment about the entire situation he is shot down and he finally realizes it is all too late. Even more sad is when his mother plays favorites and consistently shows that her love lies in the grave with her deceased son. Sadly enough, she fails to realize that you should always love your children equally and at the very least, realize that you have a younger son left who is dying to be your favorite. This is so true of real-life. Many mothers and fathers ponder the misfortune of having stillborn children and children who died before they did. They spend so much time stuck in this phase that they neglect to realize that they have a child whose alive and well and needs attention. The film could have degenerated into a sweet hug-fest of an ending but completely refuses. Too dark for some but very significant for me. And did I mention that Robert Redford effortlessly directs his first feature and deservedly wins at the Oscars?

  • kentig23 June 1999
    I consider myself to be in the upper echelon of movie goers. My interests run the complete gamut of films - from Wizard of Oz & Sound of Music, to Pulp Fiction & Goodfellas. Of all the movies I have ever seen, Ordinary People ranks on my list as the BEST movie ever made. It is a movie without a single flaw. The storyline, pacing, acting, directing, sound track, & ending are PERFECT. Although it won its fair share of Oscars, the fact that more people don't "live for" this movie is astonishing to me. How, for example, could it not have been in last year's AFI's Top 100 Films.
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