"Ordinary People" Movie Analysis

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Enjoli Crum
English 103
MWF 11-12p
A Journey through Tragedy

“Ordinary people” everywhere are faced day after day with the ever so common tragedy of losing a loved one. As we all know death is inevitable. We live with this harsh reality in the back of our mind’s eye. Only when we are shoved in the depths of despair can we truly understand the multitude of emotions brought forth. Although people may try to be empathetic, no one can truly grasp the rawness felt inside of a shattered heart until death has knocked at their door. We live in an environment where death is invisible and denied, yet we have become desensitized to it. These inconsistencies appear in the extent to which families are personally affected by death—whether they define loss as happening to “one of us” or to “one of them.” Death is a crisis that all families encounter, and it is recognized as the most stressful life event families face, although most do not need counseling to cope. The movie “Ordinary People” shows the turmoil of the Jarrett family caused by the loss of their beloved son and big brother, Buck. This movie depicts what might happen to an upper class family when tragedy strikes unexpectedly, and order is turned into chaos. Everyone must, however, continue to upkeep a mask of normalcy for society and for each other. The film sheds light into a family, due to a tragedy, that have turned into separate individuals inhabiting the same house, unable to communicate their grief effectively. It realistically looks into misplaced guilt at every level. The family’s inability to work together through these tragedies leads them down a path where they are each consumed by inner guilt, and ultimately the breakdown of the Jarrett family ensues. The family survivors include the cold-hearted socialite mother Beth, the passive father Calvin, and the guilt-ridden teenaged son Conrad who returns home after a four-month stay in a mental hospital where he was sent after slitting his wrists. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that this is a family with emotional problems. As we are introduced to the Jarretts in the film, it becomes quite obvious that Conrad is exhibiting signs of survivor guilt and Post dramatic Stress Disorder. He appears lost in his own thoughts in school, has trouble sleeping, and is withdrawn from people. A return to normalcy, school and home-life, appear to be more than Conrad can handle. Beth and Calvin’s relationship has survived one son’s death and the other’s attempted suicide. At least on the surface, the couple appear to have a strong, loving relationship. They are affectionate with one another and have a large circle of friends. Their home and their friends are beautiful. Their life seems perfect. Our first look at the family’s dynamics is at breakfast when Conrad says he wasn’t hungry and Beth immediately takes the food and shoves it down the garbage disposal while making up an excuse to leave the table. Beth exhibits’ what one must wish is a façade; her cold and brash nature is nearly oblivious to her son's issues, resulting in a near one-sided self-interest. While her shameless nerve can be interpreted as strong will, one must ask if this is a noble trait, and in the end it is quite the contrary. Beth is guided by self-determination and the fulfillment of her own ego and persona, both in a community viewpoint and self. Persistent flashbacks of the boating accident that lead to Buck drowning and images of his grave, have finally convinced Conrad to take his father’s advice and go see the psychiatrist, Dr. Berger. Conrad’s main concern is “to be in control so everyone will stop worrying about him.” He believes that his father is watching his every move, checking for signals. Conrad's father worries about him more than his mother does. Calvin believes that communication will help heal the wounds, while Beth wants to leave the past behind. In a conversation with psychiatrist Dr. Berger, Conrad is asked who does most of...
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