Ordinary People, 30 Years Later

January 28, 2011 at 5:49 AM | Posted in Movies | 7 Comments
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When that old Greek movie critic Heraclitus said that you can’t step in the same move twice, he was on to something.

For the first time since it came out in 1980, I watched Ordinary People with Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Timothy Hutton, Judd Hirsch and directed by Robert Redford. I remembered liking it a lot and the coldness of the Moore character is unforgettable. The movie takes place in Lake Forest, Illinois and I’m sure the first time through it was obvious that it was an upscale suburb but now, after 25 years in Chicagoland, I have a better sense of just how upscale. The Hutton character, the teen on the rebound from a suicide attempt, is seen swimming for  his school’s swim team. I had no memory of this,I think, because swimming didn’t exist for me then. Now, I evaluated his stroke (not good.)

I did remember the golf scene, a crucial one where Moore shows her worst colors and Sutherland, her husband, doesn’t back down for the first time.  The movie came out before my own country club days and now that I am, by choice, un-clubbed, I understand better the whole social aspect to membership and how delightful it is for some and how crushing for others.

Mary Tyler Moore, looking tall, slender and so put together is the movie for me and likely most of us. She is the mother whose favorite son was drowned and she can’t find it in herself to love her younger son  who was involved but not the cause of the drowning and is naturally haunted by it. She could not even bring herself to visit him in the hospital. We see her grow colder and colder until she freezes.

 The first time I saw the movie I condemned her; now,  having made so many mistakes myself, my heart sinks for all of them.


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  1. I’d forgotten about this movie. I do remember how moved I was by it at the time. Great and insightful post.

    • Moore’s performance, while great was slightly mechanical. Do you remember how striking it was then when she was the bouncy, every girl’s best friend?

      Definitely worth seeing again.

  2. Thirty years later, does Robert Redford still win the Oscar for Best Director over Martin Scorsese and Raging Bull?

    • I forgot about that and at the time it seemed wrong and still seems wrong. That said, I really admire Redford’s direction in this; seems perfect to me.

      Scorcese, since Casino, leaves me cold.

      • Is it possible that Redford will be 75 this year? Wow. This was Redford’s directorial debut. I’m sure the Oscar was more of a “we thought this was going to suck and you hit it out of the park” award. (For details, see “Heaven Can Wait”, “Reds” and “Warren Beatty”)

  3. Great movie. Mary Tyler Moore’s character is the best unlikely movie “villain” ever. Of course she’s mechanical; that’s the essence of the character. Donald Sutherland’s realizations at the end of the movie are priceless. Don’t know if Redford should’ve been best director, but the movie was definitely best movie.

    • Thanks for writing. There was one particular scene when the machinery was showing — other than that, perfect. Yes, the Sutherland epiphany was powerful.

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