Analysis of the Film Ordinary People  



The movie to be analyzed in this paper is Ordinary People by Robert Redford. The film is about the Jarret family that is struggling with the tragedy of losing their eldest son Buck who dies in a sailing accident.  Conrad the younger brother who was also involved in the incident feels guilty and responsible for the death of his older brother and after struggling with depression, he tries to commit suicide. Calvin (the father), is anxious and encourages his on to see a therapist and the boy begins a session with Dr. Berger. On the other hand, Beth (the mother) is an active woman in the Lake Forest community, she does everything to forget the incident, and in the process, she ends up avoiding her son Conrad or making any close contact with him. Meanwhile, Beth and Calvin’s marriage begins to crumble; he argues that her treatment towards their son is too cold and she blames him for siding with their son Conrad against her. This film revolves around important family issues including love, forgiveness, family life, and loss. Most importantly, the themes of lack of communication, and the struggle to be ordinary are evident in this film.

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Character analysis 

Conrad is the central character in the film and the youngest son of Calvin and Beth Jarret.  A few months before the beginning of the film, he was involved in a sailing accident with his older brother Buck, who dies in the accident.  This event has a major impact on Conrad and he tries to commit suicide since he feels responsible for the death of his brother.  With the assistance of his father, he begins to see a psychiatrist and through this, he begins a painful but redeeming journey of escaping guilt and discovering how to love himself and others. 

The second important character in this film is Beth Jarret (Conrad’s mother and wife to Calvin) is a physically attractive woman, with self-drive, and a perfectionist. She spends most of her time occupied around the home, and while she is anxious about the atrocious events of the loss of her son, she tries to suppress her emotions and move on from her past. Her attitude brings her into conflict with her son who believes that the family can heal by talking about the accident.

 The third character is Calvin Jarret, Beth’s Husband, and father to Conrad on the other hand, is depicted as a great listener who loves his family, but he seems to blame himself for the bad things that happen in his family. He grew up in an orphanage and thus he has a deep desire to provide and care for his family. He is a successful lawyer, but despite this, he feels a sincere sense of responsibility for the horrible events and misfortunes of his sons. He also believes that there is a major communication problem with his wife, which strains their marriage. 

Communication Problems

 The first communication problem is seen between Conrad and his mother; the two do not talk like a mother and her son. They have no emotional connection and can hardly tolerate each other, and this is evident in the scene where Calvin intends to take a photo of mother and scene. In this scene, Calvin hardly smiles to her mother and there an awful strangeness between the two characters. Beth avoids direct contact with her son and does what it takes to avoid taking a family photo with him.  She pushes Conrad outside the family love boundary by not communicating with him or showing any signs of affection. She does not hug him as a mother, invite him on family trips or include him in conversations with Calvin. 

The second problem exhibited in this film involves lack of open-communication. Calvin struggles with communicating with his wife about her attitude towards their son. The lack of open communication is evident in the way he keeps to himself and continues to remain in a state of denial about the loss of their son and Beth’s lack of affection towards Conrad. The concept of conflict approach is seen in the way Calvin handles conflicts. He employs the collaboration by engaging his wife and working together with her towards a solution when faced with a conflict. For instance, in the scene where Conrad comes down to have breakfast, Calvin takes his time to talk and understand their son’s problem as compared to Beth who rushes to avoid the situation and avoid talking to their son.

Lack of emotion and communication between Beth and her son Conrad escalates the problem by causing her relationship between them to deteriorate. The two-character chose to continue with their lack of communication, which results in more conflict, and lack of connection between the two. Similarly, the lack of open communication between Beth and Calvin escalate the problem in that in at the end of the film, Beth leaves her husband without an official communication or notification for a divorce.

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Lessons learned

The communication issues depicted in the film are similar to issues I have experienced in real life. One of the issues involves lack of affection and open communication especially with friends when they or I am dealing with a personal issue.  At times I suppress my emotions, especially when dealing with a delicate issue, and I might do this to avoid questions or explaining things to my friends and it is evident this self-denial could escalate the situation and cause conflicts among friends and members of the family. Rather than collaborating to solve issues I have some friends who would rather avoid a conflict just to keep the relationship, however, it is evident this is wrong and only damages the trust and connection in the relationships. In order to improve my communication skills, I need to collaborate with others when faced with a conflict or situation in order to come up with a solution.  Secondly, communicating openly, being affectionate towards others, use body language to shows concern in order to build and strengthen our communication, and relationships. 

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  1. Redford, Robert, director. Ordinary People. Paramount Pictures, 1980.


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