Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

On Golden Pond (1981)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

On Golden Pond (1981)

In director Mark Rydell's warm-hearted Best Picture nominated family drama based on screenwriter Ernest Thompson's off-Broadway stage play - honored by Henry Fonda's first Best Actor Oscar win:

  • in the opening scene, adoring wife Ethel Thayer (Katharine Hepburn in the fourth Oscar-winning role of her career) was excited with her cantankerous, gruff, "old poop" 80-year-old husband Norman, Jr. (76 year old Henry Fonda in an Oscar-winning role and in his last film); they drove up at the start of presumably their last annual summer trip to the location of their Golden Pond cabin, their New England lakeside vacation home in Maine; Ethel joyously announced that the loons were welcoming them home: "Come here, Norman. Hurry up. The loons! The loons! They're welcoming us back!"; the curmudgeonly Norman responded that he wasn't interested: "I don't hear a thing!"
  • the very vulnerable Norman was continually reminded that he was growing old, suffering from various ailments, and losing his memory - when he looked at his fishing rods and a newspaper clipping announcing his retirement as a University of Pennsylvania Professor, and when he noted his elderly reflection in the mirror
  • out on the lake during an excursion in their canoe named Gertrude, when Norman exclaimed with his binoculars: "Yeah, they're huge. I never saw such big loons in my life" - Ethel corrected him to not look so far into the distance, and concentrate on two loons in the foreground: "Those are boats, you poop. Come in closer. A husband and wife. I think they're looking at us"
  • Norman became distressed and fearful at his failing physical and mental health (senility and death) when he momentarily lost his way in the woods and became disoriented and in a panic while picking strawberries: "You want to know why I came back so fast? I got to the end of our lane, I couldn't remember where the old town road was. I wandered a way in the woods. There was nothing familiar. Not one damn tree. Scared me half to death. That's why I came running back here to you to see your pretty face. I could feel safe. I was still me"
  • the supportive, positive-minded Ethel offered him very comforting words: "You're safe, you old poop....Listen to me, mister, you're my knight in shining armor. Don't you forget it. You're gonna get back on that horse and I'm gonna be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we're gonna go, go, go!"; Norman quipped: "I don't like horses! You are a pretty old dame, aren't you? What are you doin' with a dotty old son of a bitch like me?"
Lost in the Woods - Ethel (comforting): "You're my knight in shining armor"
  • they were surprised by Norman's estranged and sole divorced daughter Chelsea Thayer Wayne (real life daughter Jane Fonda) came to visit with her new fiancee, 45-year-old divorced dentist Bill Ray (Dabney Coleman), and his 13-year old teenaged son Billy Ray (Doug McKeon) from Los Angeles - they were on their way to Europe; they would help celebrate Norman's 80th birthday; Ethel was nervous about the reunion: "Norman, wouldn't it be nice if we could all get along this time?"

Arrival of Estranged Daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda)

13 Year-Old Billy Ray (Doug McKeon)

Threesome of the Ray Family
  • after their arrival, Norman made a harsh, cutting and sarcastic response to Bill's request to sleep together in the same room with Norman's daughter: "...I'd guess I'd be DELIGHTED to have you abuse my daughter under my own roof. Would you like the room where I first violated her mother? Or would you be interested in the master bedroom? Ethel, your boy and I could sleep out back. You could do it right here on the hearth. Like that idea?"
  • indignant at Norman for playing mental games and trying to be intimidating, Bill verbally parried and put Norman in his place: "You're having a good time, aren't you?... Chelsea told me all about how you like to have a good time messing with people's heads...I think you should know I'm pretty good at recognizing crap when I hear it. You know, it's not, not imperative that you and I become friends....But, I want you to bear one thing in mind while you're jerking me around and making me feel like an asshole. I know PRECISELY what you're up to. And I'll take just so much of it..."; in the long run, Bill gained some respect and affection from Norman, who allowed the arrangement
  • when left alone with 13 year-old Billy, Norman questioned: "What does one do for recreation when one is 13 and not in school?"; Billy answered: "We cruise chicks...You know, meet 'em. Girls, try to pick 'em up"; Norman asked a follow-up question: ("What do you do with 'em when you have 'em?"), Billy responded: "Suck face!...You know, kiss. Suck face. You kiss"
  • during Norman's 80th birthday celebration, he joked about his age before asking for everyone to help blow out his candles: "Surprised it got here so fast! But I'm glad I got to spend so much time with this beautiful woman. What's your name again? I want to thank all of you for coming all the way here from Disneyland to witness this historic event. Now that I'm out of hot air, I'm gonna need a little assistance to get these candles out"
  • in a private conversation with Ethel by Golden Pond, Chelsea complained about her father's condescending, overbearing, and unapproachable nature when she was with him: "I don't think I've ever grown up on Golden Pond....I act like a big person everywhere else. I'm in charge of Los Angeles, and I come here, I feel like a little fat girl...My father is a goddamn bastard!...Mother, do you know, I've been answering to Norman all my life. Makes me so mad! Even when I'm 3,000 miles away and I don't even see him, I'm still answering to him. Norman is a goddamn poop"
  • Ethel was critical of Chelsea, basically taking sides with Norman and not as sympathetic as she might be, and thought that Chelsea was equally cynical and had a chip on her shoulder: "Chelsea, you have a great big chip on your shoulder which is very unattractive...It doesn't have to ruin your life, darling. You're a big girl now. Aren't you tired of it all? Bore, bore. Life marches by, Chels. I suggest you get on with it"
  • during summer fishing adventures (Billy was left behind when Chelsea and Bill went on to Europe for a few weeks), Billy (with Norman) attempted to catch a legendary 10-pound rainbow trout named 'Walter' (Norman called it "a crafty old son of a bitch!") - the lake's largest fish, and the two developed an affinity and camaraderie for each other during their crusade to catch the enormous fish
  • Ethel delivered words of wisdom to Billy after he was yelled at by crotchety old Norman: "You mustn't let Norman upset you, Billy....He wasn't yelling at you, you know....He was yelling at life.... It means he's like an old lion. He has to remind himself that he can still roar. Billy, sometimes you have to look hard at a person and remember that he's doing the best he can. He's just trying to find his way, that's all, just like you"
  • while fishing for 'Walter' one evening in the dangerous and rocky Purgatory Cove, Billy and Norman caught a dead loon in the water, prompting Billy to ask: "Hey, Norman? Are you afraid of dying?"; upset about his own approaching mortality and the darkness, Norman insisted that they leave; inexperienced at the wheel as he was instructed to drive the Thayer IV speedboat at high speed, Billy crashed into a rock instead of reversing; in a near-fatal accident, Norman was catapulted into the water and received a gash on his head; Billy swam with Norman to a rock to hold onto, to keep them from drowning, where a worried Ethel located and rescued both them - she dove into the cold water herself [Note: Hepburn did the scene without a wetsuit], and she called him a "goddamn poop!"
Near-Fatal Boating Accident for Billy and Norman
  • Ethel gave a spiteful Chelsea a hard slap when she called her father Norman a "selfish son-of-a-bitch" and predicted he would be unproud and unhappy about her marriage in Europe to Bill, although Norman seemed to have established a connection with Billy - Ethel angrily retorted: "That son-of-a-bitch happens to be my husband" - she admonished Chelsea to grow up, to not dwell on problems in the past, and to directly tell her father about her marriage
  • in a heart-tugging scene at the dock, teary-eyed Chelsea awkwardly reconciled with her father Norman, and requested that they begin a new more reasonable father-daughter relationship: (Chelsea: "I think that maybe you and I should have the kind of relationship that we're supposed to have....Well, you know, like a father and a daughter....I don't want anything. It just seems that you and me have been mad at each other for so long..." Norman: "I didn't think we were mad; I thought we just didn't like each other" - ending with Chelsea's suggestion: "I want to be your friend"; Norman asked: "Oh. This mean you'll come around more often? Mean a lot to your mother" - after which she touched his arm
  • the afternoon scene culminated with Chelsea eagerly showing off by doing "a real goddamned back-flip" from the diving board for an appreciative Norman ("She did it!"); in her youth, Chelsea had always been afraid to perform the same complicated diving stunt, but now had achieved the courage and confidence to do so, with her father's backing
Father-Daughter Reconciliation at the Dock
  • when Chelsea was departing, Norman presented her with one of his old, second place diving medals from his days at Princeton - a symbol of their new relationship as she called him "Dad" for the first time
  • in the film's final scene, the last day for the Thayers at Golden Pond, when packing and loading boxes, Norman collapsed due to angina on the front porch while carrying a heavy box of china; Ethel panicked but prayed - after giving him his life-saving nitroclycerin medication: ("Dear God, don't take him now. You don't want him. He's just an old poop"), and they discussed the reality of death: ("This is the first time that I've really felt that we were gonna die....When I looked at you here on the floor, I could actually see you dead. I could see you, I could see you in your blue suit and white, starched shirt in Thomas's funeral parlor on Bradshaw Street....You've been talking about death ever since we met, but this is the first time I really felt it...Oh, it feels odd. Cold, I guess. Not that bad, really. Not so frightening. Almost comforting. Not such a bad place to go. I don't know!"); thankfully, Norman recovered
  • then in a lighter moment as he stood on the porch, Norman used slang he had learned from 13 year-old Billy - he delivered a proposal to Ethel: "Want to dance? Or would you rather just suck face?"

Norman to Ethel: "Want to dance? Or would you rather just suck face?"

"Just the two of them now"
  • the film's final lines of dialogue came as they walked to the edge of the lake and stood there before leaving, when Norman now noticed and heard the loons on the lake possibly saying goodbye - he compared themselves to the last two remaining loons: "Ethel, listen. The loons, they've come around to say good-bye. Just the two of them now. Their baby's all grown up and moved to Los Angeles or somewhere"

Ethel: "The Loons! The Loons! They're welcoming us back"

Norman's Retirement as Professor at His Elderly State

Out on Golden Pond

Norman's Cutting Response to Bill About Sleeping Arrangements

Bill's Sharp Verbal Answer to Norman

Billy's Term for a Kiss: "Suck face!"

Norman's 80th Birthday

Chelsea's Complaints About Her Father to Ethel: "My father is a goddamned bastard!"

Norman and Billy Fishing for "Walter"

Ethel's Words of Wisdom for Billy About Norman's Angry Yelling

Billy's Question to Norman: "Are you afraid of dying?"

Chelsea Startled by Ethel's Hard Slap

Nitroglycerin Pills for a Collapsed Norman Due to Angina

Ethel's Fearful Prayer

Calling Doctor

Thoughts About Death


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z