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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this drama deals with mature themes like death, suicide, and dysfunctional family relationships. Many of the scenes are intense and sad. It contains some arguing, a fist fight (leading to an injury), some strong language ("s--t," "f--k"), and some sexual references. Drinking and cigarette smoking is also visible.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton) returns home after four months in a mental hospital. He tried to kill himself following a tragic boating accident with his brother, Bucky, who drowned. His father, Calvin (Donald Sutherland), tries to reach out to him, but is afraid of saying the wrong thing, and is shy about his own emotions. His mother, Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), is uncomfortable with emotions and with anything "messy" or hard to control. After some hesitation, Conrad seeks out psychiatrist Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch). With Berger's help, Conrad begins to reach out to a sympathetic girl at school, Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern). He makes contact with Karen (Dinah Manoff), a friend from his hospital stay who seems to be in control, and is later devastated when he learns she killed herself. He calls Berger in the middle of the night, to confess that he can't forgive himself for surviving when his brother died, that he feels guilty and unworthy. Calvin begins to realize that Beth's unwillingness to connect to her own emotions or anyone else's is suffocating the family. Their relationship unravels quickly, and she leaves, as Cal and Conrad begin to share their feelings.
Is it any good?
ORDINARY PEOPLE is a hard-hitting movie about emotional honesty. It's about the courage and emotional vocabulary that are necessary for the connections and intimacy we need to be able to survive challenges like the tragedy faced by this family. The characters represent a wide variety of approaches and abilities to emotional openness and "control." Conrad and Calvin are both groping their way toward a better understanding of themselves and others and the ability to communicate.
Beth does not want to try, but it's clear that the director and writer feel sorry for her. She has chosen emptiness rather than "messy" feelings. What Conrad feels as rejection is really Beth's fear of his sensitivity and vulnerability. Jeannine at first pulls back from Conrad's attempt to connect with her by telling her the truth about himself, but then apologizes. She wants to understand him; it was just that at first she did not know how to respond, so retreated into the more comfortable and familiar environment of joking around. In contrast, Karen, who seems to have so much "control" and goes to elaborate pains to persuade Conrad that she is doing fine, is unable to cope.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether they know of someone who has attempted suicide, or who has been successful. Is this movie a realistic portrayal of the experiences around suicide? Do you know where to go for help if you or someone you know is considering suicide?
Does this movie stand the test of time? What qualities can age a movie quickly, or what can give it longevity?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.