Sunday, January 9, 2011

1980: Ordinary People

Conrad has spent several months in a mental institution after trying to kill himself.  Now he's back at home and in school, but no one seems to know how to act around him.  His friends want everything to go back to normal, but Conrad still hasn't gotten over the tragic accidental death of his older brother.  His compassionate father desperately wants to help him without knowing how, while his callous mother stubbornly refuses to acknowledge him.  Even Karen, Conrad's friend from the mental hospital, doesn't want to listen to his problems.  But with the help of a psychiatrist, Conrad finally begins to look inside himself and discover what it means to live.

This is one of the most depressing movies I've ever seen, so it's not surprising that it won Best Picture.  I don't know why the Academy always favors disturbing dramas over comedies, but in this case, they made a wise decision.  I can think of few films that are as well-made as this one.  The story unfolds beautifully, with every shot providing vital insights into the characters' emotions and points of view.  The characters are deep and complex, but never inconsistent.  The details of Conrad's past aren't handed to the audience at the beginning; instead, we learn of them as Conrad rediscovers how they have shaped him.

Robert Redford, in his directoral debut, proves that he is just as brilliant behind the camera as in front of it, and most certainly earns his Best Director Oscar.  Timothy Hutton's convincing and haunting portrayal of the tormented Conrad won him the award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, which I think is kind of ridiculous as there is nothing "supporting" about his role, but at least his performance was recognized.  It's very interesting to see Mary Tyler Moore playing against type; who would have thought of her as the mother?  But it works.

I've never read Ordinary People, so I don't know how closely the film follows the book.  What I do know is this is an incredibly moving, powerful, well-made movie, but I wouldn't want to watch it over and over again because it's so depressing.  At least it's a depressing movie that I understood.

Coming up next: Chariots of Fire

No comments:

Post a Comment