Ordinary People

I have no idea why this film from 1980 has come to mind recently, but it has!  Whole scenes have come back to me.  This is, after all, what makes a film great in my opinion: the extent to which you think about it after you have seen it and the extent to which it lives on inside you.

This film was the first to be directed by Robert Redford.  It starred Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore as affluent parents whose wealth did not protect them from tragedy.  Their son is killed in a boating accident leaving younger son, Conrad, played by Timothy Hutton adrift in a family trying to come to terms with their loss.  At the start of the film, Conrad has returned home after a spell in hospital.  He attempted suicide and required psychiatric care.  The return of their son is the start of a family trying to return to something approaching a normal life.  Yet, his mother is cold towards him, maybe because she lost the son she preferred or maybe because she saw Conrad’s suicide attempt as a weakness his brother would not have displayed.  His father is trying to keep everyone happy but Conrad is distant from everyone around him.  Scenes played as arguments between mother and son are powerful, mostly because this is a young man trying to keep his emotions under control; the outpouring of anger is the more potent for being locked away for some time.


Into his life comes Dr Berger, played by Judd Hirsch.  It is in sessions with this sympathetic psychiatrist that Conrad starts to understand his survivor’s guilt and what his survival represents to his family.  The final scene between doctor and patient isn’t the final scene of the film but it is the most moving.


The film won four Oscars: Best Picture; Best Director: Best Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton); and Best Adapted Screenplay.  I thought Judd Hirsch deserved some recognition; he was nominated in the same category as Timothy Hutton.  Mary Tyler Moore was also nominated for an Oscar.  She won the Bafta for Best Actress for her role and Timothy Hutton won the Bafta for ‘Most Outstanding Newcomer to Leading Film Roles’.

‘Ordinary People’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?


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