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Ordinary People (1980)

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The accidental death of the older son of an affluent family deeply strains the relationships among the bitter mother, the good-natured father, and the guilt-ridden younger son.



(novel), (screenplay)
3,946 ( 8)
Won 4 Oscars. Another 15 wins & 14 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Swim Coach
Ray (as James B. Sikking)
Quinn K. Redeker ...
Ward (as Quinn Redeker)
Meg Mundy ...
Elizabeth Hubbard ...


Beth, Calvin, and their son Conrad are living in the aftermath of the death of the other son. Conrad is overcome by grief and misplaced guilt to the extent of a suicide attempt. He is in therapy. Beth had always preferred his brother and is having difficulty being supportive to Conrad. Calvin is trapped between the two trying to hold the family together. Written by John Vogel <jlvogel@comcast.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


some films you watch, others you feel. See more »




R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

27 February 1981 (Australia)  »

Also Known As:

Gente como uno  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$6,000,000 (estimated)


$54,800,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Most critics compared this dark family epic to Anton Checkov's tragedies which also focus on the disintegration of a family: The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull and Three Sisters. See more »


When Karen and Conrad are at the restaurant and Karen is leaving, the Cokes have disappeared from the table. See more »


Calvin "Cal" Jarrett: [Inside his garage,Calvin Jarrett is just getting out of his car after a counseling session with his son Conrad's psychiatrist, Dr. Berger] What I'm... gonna say... will sound strange.
Beth Jarrett: What happened? Come inside.
Calvin "Cal" Jarrett: Could we talk about Buck's funeral?
Beth Jarrett: Whaaaat?
Calvin "Cal" Jarrett: It'll seem trivial. But, it's on my mind and I'd like to talk about it. When I was getting dressed for Buck's funeral...
Beth Jarrett: Calvin, what's the matter with you?
Calvin "Cal" Jarrett: Just let me get it off my chest,OK?
Beth Jarrett: What could getting dressed for Buck's funeral... ...
See more »


Referenced in Saturday Night Live: Bill Murray/Delbert McClinton (1981) See more »


Canon in D major
Composed by Johann Pachelbel
Arranged for mixed voices by Noel Goemanne
Additional arrangement by Jean-François Paillard (as Jean-Francois Paillard)
See more »

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User Reviews

One of the finest and most true to life movies ever
6 February 2006 | by (Bradenton, Florida) – See all my reviews

I might consider putting this movie in my top 10 list of best movies. It's absolutely amazing that for his directorial debut, Robert Redford created such a masterpiece. Now it was not all due to him, as the story was so well-written and the acting is dead on for all the characters. Part of the reason I love it so much might be because I was a psychotherapist before becoming a school teacher (mid-life crisis, you know). And, having worked with dysfunctional families, this movie gets it right time and time again. Therapy is not a miracle cure that takes effect almost immediately (like in GOOD WILL HUNTING) and the parents BOTH have a strong role in keeping the family sickness alive. Donald Sutherland is the enabler who denies there is a problem--even after one son dies by accident and the other attempts suicide. He also cannot face that the family's dysfunction is mostly controlled and maintained by his very disturbed wife, played wonderfully by Mary Tyler Moore. She is not mentally ill but has a very sick personality, as she is cold as ice emotionally and deals with problems through massive amounts of denial as well as stuffing her anger WAY down deep. Timothy Hutton is, despite his being the patient, the healthiest one in the family, as his suicide attempt is a strong cry for help. Finally, Judd Hirsch plays the therapist--and one of the most realistically portrayed therapists on film. He has no miracle cure but tries his best to get Hutton, and later Sutherland, to work hard at uncovering their dysfunction. Again and again and again, the viewer is rewarded by a brutally honest script that is about people who would be real--not Hollywood's idea of "people". The film is neither manipulative nor condescending--this is the way more films SHOULD be.

In addition, as I have watched the film several times, I keep noticing just how perfect the direction was. How wonderfully framed the shots were, how wonderfully the music fit in and how unflinching the movie dealt with pain. In particular, I love the scene with Sutherland at the psychiatrist's office as he talks about his marriage....and his eyes keep looking away and avoiding the doctor as he says how much he loves her. And the great Christmas photo scene--it just screams out "this is real!!". For this to be Robert Redford's directorial debut is absolutely amazing and he surely earned that Best Director Oscar.

FYI--although this movie is rated R, it is only for language. There are a few REALLY CHOICE WORDS used here and there, but otherwise this is a great movie for teens. If filmed today, this would no doubt be a PG-13 film. I am a very conservative parent, and yet I found this to be totally acceptable for my 15 year-old. It's a great film to watch WITH your kids and discuss what you see.

I cannot recommend a film more highly.

22 of 25 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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