Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ordinary People (1980)

By Eric Jessen 6/25/09

For a second I couldn't believe it was all over. I went out and out and out of this world (in a zoom out) and was stunned. It felt so real. I thought I had been there the whole time and had just died. I finally realized it was just a movie and movies have to end.
Now that I'm back in this world I can think back about the movie I watched, Ordinary People. My immediate reaction to this movie is that it is a near perfect movie about human behavior. It is extremely intelligent. We learn a lot about the characters through their mannerisms, and their every litter tic and jitter.
But now that I have had more time to think about it, I realize this movie does not show me anything new, or explore new theories of psychoanalysis people. It also doesn't delve into some murky areas of ordinary relationships or set up scenes that I wouldn't see on a common soap opera or daytime melodrama. The characters hurt and have problems. But their problems are ordinary, their solutions are ordinary, so this movie won't have me thinking and wondering tonight when I go to bed (the time when I always reflect on the movies I've watched). It also won't have me clamoring to watch it again, wanting to study the characters further.
Despite its ordinary material it is exceptionally effective in grabbing my attention and having me caring about its characters. It would have been weird to think about them as actors acting while I was watching because their portrayals seemed very real. In many ways it was an acting exercise because as I said the material doesn't take many chances. The acting by Timothy Hutton, Judd Hirsch, Mary Tyler Moore, and Donald Sutherland is vital to the success of the movie. They all do a superb job. Hutton plays a troubled teen, Conrad, who has just attempted suicide because of the death of his brother. We meet him in a terrible state. He is overcome by self esteem problems and lack of confidence. He is shy and awkward around other people and it is almost painful to watch. He has weekly meeting with his psychiatrist, Dr. Burger (Judd Hirsch). Dr. Burger is a simple character. As a psychiatrist he asks timely questions, seems caring of his patients, and down to earth. Nothing new there, but Hirsch is effective in calming down the movie when it needs it (maybe that's a problem, I don't know). Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland play Conrad's parents, Beth and Calvin. Calvin is a caring and worrying dad, who seems afraid of his son's problems but does his best to deal with them. Beth, who is the most interesting character, doesn't seem to love her son. In fact they don't even seem related. Their interactions are uncomfortable and awkward, like a couple that has just separated. Beth is also interesting because she seems to push all family members and relationships away in favor of her quite equanimity. I must say there is also a hint of lesbianism in her hair, clothes, and polished golf game.
It may not have been new, or uniquely perceptive, but good melodrama(like my introduction) is all and all and all and I loved it.

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