Film Analysis Essay on Ordinary People

Paper Type:  Movie review
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1752 Words
Date:  2022-10-13


The American Drama film, Ordinary People, is based on a 1976 novel Ordinary People written by Judith Guest. From its release in 1980, the film has won four Academy Awards: Best Director-(Redford), Best Actress in a Drama (Tyler Moore) Golden Globe Awards and Best Supporting Actor (Hutton). The story is about a disintegrating middle-class family following the death of one of their sons in a boating accident. Following his death, the family members, such as Conrad, are hugely affected, and this forms the basis of the story. Chiefly, his death leads to strained relationships between a guilt-ridden son (Conrad), a bitter mother (Beth) and a good-natured father (Calvin). Despite Conrad's mother coldness of the heart and absence of empathy which leads to a suicide attempt, Conrad psychiatrist assistance goes a long way in helping him hold his family together.

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Summary of the Movie Plot

The Jarretts, an upper-middle-class in Illinois, are trying to recover after the loss of their son Buck and the suicidal attempt of their other son Conrad. Buck lost his life in a boating accident in the company of his brother Conrad. Following this death, Conrad suffers from survivors guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is this mental disturbance that makes him attempt suicide as he is unable to deal with guilt, reconnect with family and friends. As the movie begins, Conrad is from a four-month stay in a psychiatric hospital where Dr. Berger has been assisting him to deal with the problem (Redford, 1980). However, he finds the support system at home weak for his condition. As a result, things get from bad to worse.

Conrad's mother, Beth, loved and cherished Buck than Conrad. Following the accident, Beth hates Conrad for his involvement and further, his attempt to commit suicide. This strained relationship develops tension in the family to the extent of disintegration. Calvin tries to bridge the gap between his son and wife, but his effort bears no fruits. Conversely, Beth is determined to maintain a perfection appearance and normalcy before other people and hides the situation at home (Redford, 1980). Her attempts to end the coldness between him and the son are not welcome to Conrad, and hence, they remain distant.

The climax of the movie is during the Christmas holiday. A heated argument between Conrad and Beth breaks as Beth refuses to take a photo with Conrad. In the argument, Conrad blames his mother for not visiting him in hospital in four months and adds that she would have visited if it was Buck in hospital. Beth's response makes things worse, as she responds that Buck would not be in the hospital in the first place. Calvin is left to be the referee between the arguments (Redford, 1980). Later, when Beth and Calvin travel to visit Beth's brother, Conrad gets a chance to confront Beth for her attitude.

Conrad life is not without more drama and his misfortune. Apart from getting into a fist fight with Stillman at school, he loses his old friend from the psychiatric hospital, Karen, who commits suicide. Despite all this misfortune and setbacks, the psychiatric session with Dr. Berger allows Conrad to deal with his situation. The session results to Conrad developing a relationship with a fellow student, Jeanine, who assists him, regain optimism in life (Redford, 1980). Further, Conrad can deal with the guilt and accept her mother's frailties. As the movie ends, Beth leaves her family and Calvin, and his son is left to deal with their new situation.

What Is the Major Psychological Disorder That Conrad Suffers From?

In the film, Conrad is suffering from survivor's guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder. The death of his brother Buck accidentally happened in the presence of Conrad. Following his death, Conrad suffers from the shock of watching his brother die and the guilt of not being in a position to save hip. Also, his mother's coldness towards him makes his situation worse, as he feels he is the one to blame for his brother's death. Due to this disorder, Conrad develops strained relationships with his peers in school. He is involved in a fist fight with Stillman at school (Redford, 1980). Secondly, he is unable to restore his relationship with his parents, especially his mother. For example, during Christmas, Beth and Conrad have a heated exchange with both of them blaming each other. The efforts made by Beth to reach out to him are met with coldness and bears no fruits.

After watching his brother drawn helplessly a year ago, he becomes severely depressed. The depression is characterized by furious dreams after which he jerks awake bathed in sweat. Also, he experiences flashbacks that are frightening, chronic agitation, loss of appetite, and low concentration (Redford, 1980). The extreme guilt he experiences makes him avoid his former friends as he blames himself for his brother's death. He becomes a semi-outcast both at school and at home after his unsuccessful suicide attempt and hospitalization (Okami, 2014, p. 200). Chiefly, he becomes a different person who is both distracted and unreachable. In a nutshell, his condition results in distortion of his social life as he grows cold towards schoolmates and his parents.

How Does Conrad Cope With His Illness?

To cope with his illness, Conrad goes to a psychiatric hospital for four months where Dr. Berger helps him with his situation. Further, he tries to develop relationships with schoolmates. For instance, he gets a girlfriend, Jeanine from the school who assists him regain a sense of optimism in life. Also, in the psychiatric hospital, he develops a friendship with Karen, who he later learns that she committed suicide. After his stay in the hospital, Conrad continues with his therapy sessions with Dr. Berger, and he is finally able to recover from guilt. The blame of letting his brother die is no more, and he is back to his normal psychological state. The impact of the treatment is significant in Conrad's life (Redford, 1980). He is finally able to cope with his mother's frailties, and the tension between them eases. Additionally, the relationships he develops with Karen and Jeanine are as a result of his treatment.

Relationship Between Conrad and His Therapist

Dr. Berger uses the humanistic approach in all his sessions to help Conrad through the problem (Okami, 2014, p. 250). He tries to establish a good relationship with Conrad to face his emotions. The doctor terms the problem as difficult and appeals to Conrad to cancel his swimming sessions to allow them to meet twice a week. Though adamant at first, Conrad agrees to the psychotherapy sessions. His inability to grief for Buck's death is seen in his guarded attitude as he refuses to share any feelings apart from his dreams. However, Berger points out the purpose of the avoidance and Conrad agrees to open up (Redford, 1980). He experiences emotional catharses anger and later reports that he did not feel better. Consequently, he retreats to his guarded attitude.

Furthermore, the doctor, besides confronting Conrad's aggressive-resistance, uses psychologist experiments to help him the address and acknowledge his anxiety about sadness and anger. For instance, he turns on music which allows Conrad to disclose his taste for music. Also, he uses varying distance during therapy to have a clinically effective session. He wheels his chair away from Conrad to give him an adolescent space but later wheels it close to him to confront him "in his face" (Redford, 1980). These interventions allow Conrad to explore his feelings about the past and his parents.

How Does Conrad’s Illness Impact His Relationship With His Mother and Father?

Conrad condition affects his relationship with his parents adversely. First, his relationship with his mother is more strained than any other. Jordan Buck was Beth's idolized sone and loved more than Conrad. As a result of his death, Conrad joins and continues with swimming classes in which he strives to become successful as Buck was to impress his mother. Also, after the death of Buck, the relationship at home between the two becomes worse. At the eve of Christmas holiday, Beth refuses to take a picture with him. This action results in a heated exchange (Redford, 1980). Later on, when Beth realizes that she cannot restore the relationship, she decides to leave the family.

Conrad's relationship with his father was much better. However, the withdrawal effect from Conrad's condition does not allow for a good connection between the two. Chiefly, Conrad develops a guarded attitude, and he refuses to share his feelings with anyone apart from his therapist later on. As a result, though Calvin was more loving than Beth, their relationship is cold and strained, and he is not in a position to assist Conrad. Furthermore, the life of Calvin is greatly affected by Calvin's attitude and the predicaments facing him and the family (Redford, 1980). It is Conrad's relationship with Beth that makes Calvin asks Beth to leave the family. He loses his son, almost lost the second one and finally lost his wife.

How Conrad’s Illness Impacts His Relationship With Other Characters

Conrad also relates with other characters in the movie though in a strained way. Kevin Stillman, for instance, was a rude, socially unacceptable and crude guy in school. At the same time, Conrad was mentally disturbed and was suffering from anger and sadness. He attacks Stillman who he had a fist fight with. The fight helps Conrad let out his anger. Also, Conrad makes a friend in the mental hospital, Karen. However, the friendship develops as the hospital forces Karen and Conrad to spend time together. Thus, his situation hindered a successful friendship with her. Karen too was cautious as he made friends with Conrad. She warns him that depression is contagious and that they should not spend time together (Redford, 1980). Later in the book, Karen kills herself, which serves as a wakeup call for Conrad.


In conclusion, the movie is a good analysis of psychological problems that people go through in the family set up. Conrad is suffering from survivors guilt which makes him depressed and distanced from the rest. He is both a semi-outcast in the school and at home. His relationship with his parents is at its worst. Despite all these problems, psychotherapy session by Dr. Berger helps Conrad regain his normalcy and can deal with guilt and anger. His relationship with friends is better than before, and he finally asks Jeanine for a date.


OKAMI, P. (2014). Psychology Contemporary Perspectives (1st ed.). United States: Oxford University Press.

Redford, R. (Director). (1980). Ordinary People [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

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