Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Ordinary People (1980)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Ordinary People (1980)

In actor Robert Redford's directorial debut film - an intense psychological drama (an adaptation of the Judith Guest 1976 novel by Alvin Sargent) about a tragically torn-apart family living in Lake Forest, IL, often accentuated with the brilliant mood-setting use of Johann Pachelbel's mournful adagio Canon in D Major - it won four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • the moving scenes of suicidal, guilt-ridden 18 year-old high-school student Conrad "Con" Jarrett (Oscar-winning Timothy Hutton) with severe PTSD, admitting his feelings of fault about his older teenaged brother Buck's (Scott Doebler) accidental drowning (during a sailing trip revealed over the course of the film by flashbacks) in his late-night counseling sessions with his sometimes unorthodox psychiatrist Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch)
Conrad's Traumatic Memories Told to Therapist

Conrad "Con" Jarrett
(Timothy Hutton)

Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch)

Fateful Drowning of Conrad's Brother Buck
  • the icy portrayal of grieving, hostile, bitter, composed and rejecting mother Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore); she had a revealing conversation with Conrad about their family's lack of pets; Conrad spoke sarcastically about a pigeon that used to regularly sit on Beth's car: "That was the closest we ever came to having a pet"
  • in a picture-taking scene at Christmas-time during a family gathering with Beth's parents, Beth deflected an effort by her warm-hearted and compassionate husband Calvin (Donald Sutherland) to attempt to take a family photograph of her posing together with Conrad; when Calvin struggled with the camera for a moment, Beth walked out of the shot and kept asking for Calvin to give her the camera, while Conrad became furious and disruptive, and swore at his father - in front of his grandparents: "Give her the god-damn camera!"; after Conrad stormed away, Beth retreated to the kitchen where she accidentally dropped a china plate, but then strangely noted: "You know, I think this can be saved. It's a nice clean break"
  • the scene of Conrad's discussion at a McDonalds with close female student-friend Jeannine Pratt (Elizabeth McGovern) after a night of bowling, about his despairing suicide attempt by slitting his wrists: (Conrad: "You're the first person who's asked" Jeannine: "Why'd you do it?" Conrad: "Uh, I don't know. It was like falling into a hole, it was like falling into a hole and it keeps getting bigger and bigger and you can't get out. And then, all of a sudden, it's inside and you're the hole. And you're trapped and it's all over. Something like that. It's not really scary except when you think back on it. 'Cause you know what you were feeling")
  • during their final therapy session when Conrad experienced a therapeutic breakthrough, he kept insisting he was at fault for his brother's death: ("It must be somebody's fault... or there's no point!"); (Berger: "What was the one wrong thing you did?" Conrad: "I hung on, I stayed with the boat"); Berger challenged Conrad: "Feelings are scary. And sometimes they're painful. And if you can't feel pain, then you're not gonna feel anything else either. Do you know what I'm saying?...You're here, and you're alive, and don't tell me you don't feel that"; Berger then reassured Conrad that he was his friend: ("Because I'm your friend....I am. Count on it"); Conrad was finally able to stop blaming himself for Buck's death
  • a confrontational verbal battle scene occurred between Beth and Calvin at a Houston-area golf course (during a vacation trip to visit Beth’s brother Ward (Quinn Redeker) and his wife Audrey (Mariclare Costello)), when they argued about how they had failed with their son Conrad; Calvin: "All he wants is to know that you don't hate him, that's it!" Beth: "Hate him! God, how could I hate him? Mothers don't hate their sons! Is that what he told you? Do you see how you accept what he says with no questions, and you can't do the same thing for me, you can't! GOD I DON'T KNOW WHAT ANYONE WANTS FROM ME ANYMORE!..."; Ward interjected: "Beth, now listen, look, look. We all just want - Cal, Connie, everybody, we just want you to be happy", causing Beth to fly off the handle: "Happy!...Ward, you tell me the definition of happy, huh? But first you better make sure that your kids are good and safe, that no one's fallen off a horse, or been hit by a car, or drowned in that swimming pool you're so proud of! And then you come to me and tell me how to be happy!"
  • in the final scene late at night, Calvin ultimately admitted the loss of his love for his wife at the dining room table: ("You are beautiful. And you are unpredictable. But you're so cautious. You're determined, Beth; but you know something? You're not strong. And I don't know if you're really giving. Tell me something. Do you love me? Do you really love me?....We would've been all right if there hadn't been the mess. You can't handle mess. You need everything neat and easy. I don't know. Maybe you can't love anybody. It was so much Buck. When Buck died, it was as if you buried all your love with him. And I don't understand that. I just don't know. Maybe it wasn't even Buck. Maybe it was just you. Maybe, finally, it was the best of you that you buried. But whatever it was, I don't know who you are. I don't know what we've been playing at. So I was crying. Because I don't know if I love you anymore. And I don't know what I'm going to do without that"); afterwards, Beth promptly packed up and departed in a taxi, leaving Calvin outside and deep in thought into the early morning hours
  • the closing scene was in the Jarrett's backyard before the credits, when Calvin told Conrad that a very shaken Beth had left for Houston to live for awhile; predictably, Conrad blamed himself, but was angrily dissuaded by his father to take credit for Beth's decision to leave: ("Don't do that! Don't do that to yourself! It's nobody's fault! Things happen in this world. People don't always have the answers for 'em, you know"); as they began to re-connect again, Conrad thanked his father for showing toughness, and also expressed admiration for him: "You always made us feel like everything was gonna be all right. I thought about that a lot lately. I really admire you for it"
  • they hugged in an embrace and both pledged their love for each other in the film's final two lines: Conrad: "I love you" -- Calvin: "I love you, too!", before the camera angle shifted and pulled up and away

Icy Mother Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore) with Conrad - Talking About Family's Lack of Pets

Picture-Taking Scene: "Give her the god-damn camera!"

Conrad's Discussion With Close Student Friend Jeannine Pratt (Elizabeth McGovern) About His Suicide Attempt

Conrad's Wrists

Beth's Houston Golf-Course Outburst

Calvin Jarrett (Donald Sutherland) Admitting Loss of Love to Beth

Final Backyard Scene: Father/Son Hug


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