Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

In director Robert Benton's Best Picture-winning marriage-related drama about divorce and gender roles - it reviewed the sudden break-up of a dysfunctional yuppie family with a 6 year-old son; a workaholic NYC ad executive suffered an abrupt break-up with his emotionally-unstable wife who walked out on him - stating that she was unhappy and needed to find herself; the single father was faced with taking on a nurturing gender role, and ultimately lost his demanding ad executive job; as the film concluded about 15 months later, the estranged ex-wife unexpectedly returned to take their son away with her:

  • in an early shocking sequence, unhappy, suicidal wife Joanna (Oscar-winning Meryl Streep) announced to her workaholic Manhattan adman husband Ted (Oscar-winning Dustin Hoffman) that she was leaving; she described in detail the provisions she had made to prepare for her departure: ("Ted, I'm leaving you. Ted, keys, here are my keys. Here's my American Express, here's my Bloomingdale's card, here's my checkbook. I've taken $2,000 dollars out of our savings account, because that's what I had in the bank when we first got married...Here's the cleaning, laundry ticket. You can pick them both up on Saturday...I paid the rent, I paid the Con Ed bill, and I paid the phone bill, so...So that's everything"); she also explained that it wasn't his fault when he asked what the problem was: ("It's not you...It's me. It's my fault. You just married the wrong person, that's all"); and then she admitted that she wasn't a good mother for their young son Billy (Oscar-nominated Justin Henry): ("I'm not taking him with me. I'm no good for him. I'm terrible with him. I have no patience. He's better off without me"); as the elevator door shut, she added: ("And I don't love you anymore")
  • the separated/divorced husband Ted was now faced with attempting to make a breakfast of French Toast for Billy shortly after his wife Joanna had left, by cracking an egg one-handed into a mug marked "Ted" ("Okay, you can be my number one helper. OK, now watch this. One hand. Here we go. Did you know that all the best chefs are men? I'll betcha didn't know that, did ya? Isn't this terrific? This is terrific! We gotta do this more often") - although Billy noted that he had dropped some egg shell in the cup; Ted kept trying to convince himself: ("We're havin' a good time!"), and kept chattering while forgetting one important ingredient - the milk: ("When you're having a good time, you forget the most important thing, right? I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. It's been a long time since I made this. That's fun, isn't it?")
Ted's Breakfast Preparations for Billy
  • in the film's most tearjerking sequence, Ted read outloud Joanna's letter (calling herself "Mommy") to Billy: ("My dearest, sweet Billy.... Mommy has gone away. Sometimes in the world, daddies go away and mommies bring up their little boys. But sometimes, a mommy can go away too and you have your daddy to bring you up. I have gone away because I must find something interesting to do for myself in the world. Everybody has to, and so do I. Being your mommy was one thing, but there are other things too and this is what I have to do. I did not get a chance to tell you this, and that is why I'm writing you now. I will always be your mommy and I will always love you. I just won't be your mommy in the house, but I'll be your mommy at the heart. And now I must go and be the person I have to be")
  • during dinner, Billy acted out, was continually distracted, and ignored his father's instructions to eat his dinner meal of salisbury steak: ("What is this crap?...I hate it...I hate the brown stuff. It's gross...I think I'm gonna throw's yucky"); he went instead to get dessert (chocolate chip ice cream) from the refrigerator - and completely disregarded Ted's warnings: ("If you take one bite out of that, you're in big trouble. Hey, Don't you dare. Don't you dare do that. Do you hear me? Hey, stop, hold it right there. You put that ice cream in your mouth and you are in very, very, very big trouble. Don't you dare go anywhere beyond that. Put it down right now. I am not going to say it again. I am not going to say it again!"); Billy forced Ted to take his "spoiled, rotten little brat" son to the bedroom as Billy screamed: ("I hate you!...I want my Mommy"); Ted retorted: "I'm all ya got!"
  • later that night at his bedside, Ted tenderly whispered reconciling words with his son and explained about why Joanna left, after Billy blamed himself for his mother's abandonment: ("Your mom loves you very much and the reason she left doesn't have anything to do with you. I don't know whether this is gonna make any sense, but I'll try to explain it to you, okay? I think the reason why Mommy left was because for a long time now, I've kept trying to make her be a certain kind of person, Billy. A certain kind of wife that I thought she was supposed to be. And she just wasn't like that. She was, she just wasn't like that. And now that I think about it, I think that she tried for so long to make me happy and when she couldn't, she tried to talk to me about it, see? But I wasn't listening 'cause I was too busy, I was too wrapped up just thinking about myself. And I thought that anytime I was happy, that that meant she was happy. But I think underneath she was very sad. Mommy stayed here longer than she wanted to, I think, because she loves you so much. And the reason why Mommy couldn't stay anymore was because she couldn't stand me, Billy. She didn't leave because of you. She left because of me")
  • in the film's sole (and hilarious) sex-related scene, Billy encountered his father's nude overnight guest - the embarrassed and flustered Phyllis Bernard (Jo Beth Williams) in the hallway as she was enroute to the bathroom; she stuttered while introducing herself: "I'm a friend, uh, business associate of your father's"; Billy non-chalantly asked her if she liked fried chicken: ("Do you like fried chicken?"); afterwards, she told Ted in the bedroom: "Kramer, I just met your son"
  • a more peaceful and adjusted Joanna resurfaced after 15 months, and summarized her original problem: ("All my life, I've felt like somebody's wife or somebody's mother or somebody's daughter. Even all the time we were together, I never knew who I was. And that's why I had to go away"), and then explained to Ted that in California, she had found herself by getting a job, a therapist - and then she suddenly declared: ("Well, I've learned that I love my little boy. And, uh, that I'm capable of taking care of him....I want my son")
  • in the subsequent courtroom scene, Joanna emotionally explained why she was seeking custody of her son Billy: ("Because he's my child and because I love him. I know I left my son. I know that that's a terrible thing to do. Believe me, I have to live with that every day of my life. But in order to leave him, I had to believe that it was the only thing I could do, and that it was the best thing for him. I was incapable of functioning in that home. And I didn't know what the alternative was going to be, so I thought it was not best that I take him with me. However, I have since gotten some help, and I have worked very, very hard to become a whole human being. And I don't think I should be punished for that. And I don't think my little boy should be punished. Billy's only 7 years old. He needs me. I'm not saying he doesn't need his father, but I really believe he needs me more. I was his mommy for five and a half years and Ted took over that role for 18 months. But I don't know how anybody can possibly believe that I have less of a stake in mothering that little boy than Mr. Kramer does. I'm his mother. I'm his mother")
Courtroom Battle Regarding Child Custody
  • in a second very dramatic scene at the child custody hearing, Ted made a heart-felt plea that Joanna must not take Billy: ("I'd like to know, what law is it that says that a woman is a better parent simply by virtue of her sex? You know, I've had a lot of time to think about what is it that makes somebody a good parent? You know, it has to do with constancy, it has to do with patience, it has to do with listening to him. It has to do with pretending to listen to him when you can't even listen anymore. It has to do with love, like, like, like she was saying. And I don't know where it's written that it says that a woman has a corner on that market, that, that a man has any less of those emotions than a woman does. Billy has a home with me. I've made it the best I could. It's not perfect. I'm not a perfect parent. Sometimes I don't have enough patience 'cause I forget that he's a little kid. But I'm there. We get up in the morning and then we eat breakfast, and he talks to me and then we go to school. And at night, we have dinner together and we talk then and I read to him. And we built a life together and we love each other. If you destroy that, it may be irreparable. Joanna, don't do that, please. Don't do it twice to him")
  • the final scene in their apartment building lobby highlighted Joanna's change of heart, after she had her rethought her position even though she had just won custody of their child in a difficult divorce settlement and was about to take him away. She decided that their son Billy should remain with Ted in his true home: ("I woke up this morning, kept thinking about Billy and I-I was thinking about him waking up in his room with his little clouds all around that I painted. And I thought I should have painted clouds downtown, because then he would think that he was waking up at home. I came here to take my son home. And I realized he already is home. Oh, I love him very much. (They hugged) I'm not gonna take him with me. Can I go and talk to him?...")
  • Ted suggested that Joanna should go up in the elevator by herself and see Billy, and he would wait downstairs; she asked him just before the elevator doors closed, after wiping the tears from her eyes: "How do I look?" and he responded: "You look terrific"

Joanna's Announcement of Marital Departure

In Elevator: "And I don't love you anymore"

Reading of Joanna's Letter to Billy

Difficult Dinner Scene

Ted's Bedside Reconciliation With Billy

Billy's Encounter with Phyllis in Hallway

Joanna After 15 Months: "I want my son"

Joanna's Change of Heart: "I'm Not Gonna Take Him With Me"

- "How do I look?"
- "You look terrific"


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