I always feel I have to defend this movie because it had the gall to beat out popular favorite Raging Bull for Best Picture.1 But Ordinary People is a great film which deserved to win Best Picture. It is beautifully photographed, the script by Alvin Sargent is both funny and moving, the acting is top-notch (particularly from Mary Tyler Moore, who took a huge career risk in playing against type and triumphed), and it was a ground-breaking movie that took a hard look at death, depression, suicide and grief, as well as how different people—ordinary people—process these things in different ways.
It’s not perfect. I’d love to see a remake with a lot more POCs and a less upper middle class setting.2 And it indulges in a bit of Movie Psychiatry, in which all of one’s problems are solved with talk therapy alone. Sadly, this is usually not the case with treatment of serious mental conditions such as Conrad suffers.
But this film touched me on a personal level. When I first saw it in a theater, I was on a weekend leave from the psych ward of a hospital where I stayed over two months as an aftershock from a manic episode. I knew exactly how Conrad felt, even though I hadn’t attempted suicide. The aftermath of serious mental illness leaves you exhausted. It’s an effort just to decide what clothes to wear, or whether to read a book or watch TV. Trying to talk to people is incredibly stressful. Ordinary People understood all of that.
There was one scene that almost made me run out of the theater. I won’t say which one here. If you’ve seen the movie, you probably know. If not, I highly recommend doing so. (It’s currently on Amazon Prime.)
Meanwhile, here’s another fantastic scene from the film as a teaser. Have a safe and restful night/day.