Ordinary People

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Ordinary People is a 1980 American drama film that marked the directorial debut of Robert Redford. The story concerns the disintegration of an upper-middle class family in Lake Forest, Illinois, following the death of the older son in a boating accident. The screenplay by Alvin Sargent was based upon the 1976 novel of the same name by Judith Guest.

The film was a critical and commercial success, winning that year's Academy Award for Best Picture as well as three other Oscars.



The Jarretts, an affluent family, try to return to normal life after the attempted suicide of their surviving teenage son, Conrad (Timothy Hutton), who has recently come home following a four-month stay in a psychiatric hospital. Alienated from his friends and family, Conrad, having left the hospital, chooses to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch), who learns that the boy had been involved in a sailing accident in which his older brother, Buck, died. Buck, more outgoing and athletic than Conrad, came first in everyone's estimation (including Conrad's). Conrad now deals with posttraumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt. Conrad's father, Calvin (Donald Sutherland), who awkwardly struggles to connect with his surviving son, is tormented by depression, guilt, and the lingering trauma of the accident. Conrad's mother, Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), appears to have loved her elder son more, has now grown cold toward Conrad, fixated with maintaining the appearance of perfection and normality. In one telling scene, she overhears her husband telling a friend at a party that their son has been seeing a psychiatrist. Then, on their way home in the car, she berates him angrily for revealing something she thinks should be private.

As Conrad works through his minefield of emotions with Dr. Berger and learns to try to control his emotions less, he starts dating Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern), a kind and nonjudgmental girl from his school choir. Conrad begins to regain a sense of optimism. However, the suicide of Karen (Dinah Manoff), a friend from the hospital, threatens to send him spiraling back into depression, but not before the two see each other one last time at a restaurant.

Meanwhile, he struggles to communicate and re-establish a normal relationship with his parents and schoolmates. He gets into a fistfight with a loutish schoolmate at a minor provocation, and rejects the overtures from a former friend of his and his brother's because it re-opens the wounds of Buck's death.

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