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Ordinary People (1980) Poster

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Timothy Hutton's father, actor Jim Hutton, passed away prior to filming. Hutton has said that he did not use his mourning as a basis for Conrad's depression. Also, actress Mary Tyler Moore's son Richie Meeker was killed accidentally during the year of the film's production, and Moore herself separated from her husband, producer Grant Tinker, during filming.
Mary Tyler Moore, the Best Actress nominee, has less screen time than Timothy Hutton, the Best Supporting Actor winner. Moore, along with Jack Lemmon, presented Hutton with his award at the ceremony.
Film debuts of both Timothy Hutton and Elizabeth McGovern
Robert Redford was the third director to win an Academy Award for direction on debut. Delbert Mann was the first for Marty (1955), whilst Jerome Robbins was the second for West Side Story (1961). Others have been James L. Brooks for Terms of Endearment (1983), Kevin Costner for Dances with Wolves (1990), and Sam Mendes for American Beauty (1999).
The final scene in the dining room between Calvin and Beth was originally shot with both Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore on location. However, during editing, Sutherland thought that he had Calvin crying too much, ruining the scene. So, he and director Robert Redford reshot his scenes on a partial set recreated to look like the dining room. Since Moore, who was doing theater work in New York, was unable to return for the reshoot, Redford read her lines off camera for Sutherland to respond to.
Elizabeth McGovern was a student at Juilliard during filming. The school permitted her to do the film on the condition that she leave for Chicago each Friday night and return on Sunday, filming only on Saturdays. It was the first time Juilliard had ever permitted a student to make a film during a school term.
First film as a director for Robert Redford. Reportedly, Redford's salary for this film was scale, receiving only around $53,066, the Director's Guild minimum wage. For many years, Redford had been intending to one day become a film director. Prior to this movie, Redford had been starring in Brubaker (1980), a film whose shooting schedule went over-time and consequently Redford had to start work on this picture with very little time at all between projects.
Donald Sutherland stutters slightly in a scene where he describes his son's death. That stutter was an accident, but while watching the dailies, director Robert Redford felt that it was perfect, and decided to use it.
Gene Hackman was originally cast as Dr. Berger, but had to bow out due to re-shoots on Superman II (1980). Judd Hirsch stepped into the role on condition that he could complete the filming of his scenes in nine days, so as not to interfere with his schedule on the TV show Taxi (1978). He earned a best supporting actor Oscar nomination as a result.
The restaurant scene between Conrad and Karen was filmed in Wilmette, Illinois at the Original House of Pancakes. A photograph of Robert Redford, taken during production for the film, hangs above the cash register at the front entrance.
Robert Redford decided to do the film because the story's family reminded him of his own in the way it talked around issues.
The first draft of the screenplay took a year and a half to write, and the second took another year. It was very difficult to adapt this novel, since it featured very heavy dialogue with almost no descriptions of characters or settings. During this writing process, actor Robert Redford decided to direct the picture.
Michael J. Fox auditioned for the role of Conrad Jarrett.
The scenes at Dr. Berger's office were filmed with increasingly darker lighting, to recreate earlier sunsets through the autumn.
Dinah Manoff's costume for her only day of filming was acquired when costume designer Bernie Pollack spotted a girl shopping who he believed had the perfect look for the character. He offered her $20 to buy whatever outfit she wanted, on the condition that she give him what she was wearing.
The last film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture without a Best Film Editing nomination until Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), over thirty years later.
There is a line from the novel that was dropped from the movie, where Beth explicitly blames Conrad for Buck's death. It occurs during the Christmas tree confrontation scene, when Beth questions Conrad about quitting the swim team. Conrad says, "I bet you would have come if Buck were in the hospital." Beth says, "Buck would have never been in the hospital." In the book, but not in the screenplay, she follows up with, "If you had done your job and protected your brother you wouldn't have been there." As a result, in the movie it's uncertain whether Beth blames Conrad for Buck's death, whereas in the book it's clear. This omission alters the meaning and the direction of the whole story.
Richard Dreyfuss was originally considered for the role of the psychiatrist, but when Redford called him Dreyfuss said, "I can't talk to you right now, I'm having a nervous breakdown," and he hung up the phone.
Paramount originally wanted Robert Redford to play the role of Calvin Jarrett. Actors Bruce Dern and Ken Howard were considered for the role of Calvin, which eventually went to Donald Sutherland.
Ordinary People is on the list of the most banned books in school libraries. With its graphic sex scenes, graphic discussion of suicide, and graphic language, it remains very controversial in schools. In fact, this book was the 52nd most challenged book in schools and libraries from 1990 to 1999, narrowly beating out #53, American Psycho.
According to the Entertainment Weekly article on the making of this movie, Mary Tyler Moore was cold, snobbish and uncommunicative with Hutton on the set, to get into character.
Mary Tyler Moore stated that when Robert Redford was reading the novel, he told her that he had her in mind to play Beth.
In a recent Entertainment Weekly article Timothy Hutton said Redford deliberately told everyone not to help him during the production so that he would feel isolated and unsupported, like his character.
In a recent article in Esquire Magazine (March 31st, 2013), Robert Redford claims that the reason film critic Pauline Kael criticized "Ordinary People" was because she had previously asked to meet with him to give him tips on improving his movies/acting, and he had refused. "And then she really got pissed", he said. "Everything I did from then on, she just tore into me."
The film and source novel's "Ordinary People" title comes from Judith Guest's book: "They are ordinary people, after all. For a time they had entered the world of the newspaper statistic; a world where any measure you took to feel better was temporary, at best, but that is over. This is permanent. It must be." The novel is a school text on the English curricula at many American high schools.
The play that Calvin and Beth attend at the beginning of the film is a community theater production of Bernard Slade's "Same Time, Next Year". Tellingly, in the scene that we see from the play, the characters admit that there are many things that they don't know about each other, despite having been in a long relationship.
The film takes place from October to December 1980.
Redford said he chose the book because it reminded him of his own upbringing. Both Mary Tyler Moore and Redford said the Beth character reminded them of their Fathers.
There are subplots in the novel about Mrs. Pratt's divorce and dating life, and Jeannine's troubled sexual and shoplifting history. These were dropped from the movie, except for one quick throwaway line in the bowling alley scene, when Jeannine asks Conrad if he thinks that people are punished for what they do.
Many critics have pointed out how the therapy scenes in Ordinary People between Berger/Judd Hirsch and Conrad/Timothy Hutton heavily influenced the therapy scenes between Matt Damon and Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting (1997), as well as a variety of other movies Involving troubled characters in therapy sessions.
Mary Tyler Moore has called Ordinary People "the Holy Grail of my Career".
Novelist Judith Guest has said that she embarked on the whole Ordinary People project because depression fascinates her. As someone who has suffered from it herself, she is fascinated by people who can function when depressed, versus people who cannot, people who are so stricken by it that they feel they have to kill themselves. That became the basis and inspiration for the book.
At the ends of both the novel and the screenplay, Conrad and Calvin have a fight, but the nature of those arguments is very different. In the book, Conrad criticizes Beth for leaving them, and Calvin chides him, saying that he gives out a lot of criticism to everyone else, but can't take it himself. In the movie, Conrad blames himself for Beth's leaving, and Calvin yells at him to stop. In both, the fight ends with Conrad thanking Calvin for the constructive criticism, and he invites Calvin to do that more often.
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In the movie, Calvin tells Beth that he has begun to question whether he loves her anymore. In the book this doesn't happen. There are simply a series of arguments, and then Beth ends up leaving. At the end of the book, Calvin thinks Beth doesn't love him anymore, but he never says he doesn't love her.
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This film was made and released about four years after Judith Guest's source novel was published in 1976. Director Robert Redford read the novel when it was still in galley proof form, met with Guest, and purchased the film rights prior to publication. The book has also been adapted into a stage play.
In a recent Entertainment Weekly article about the making of Ordinary People, Redford said that he wanted Dr. Berger to seem kind of crazy. When he saw Hirsch's frenetic, rapid fire delivery of his lines on Taxi, he knew he'd found his Berger.
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After Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), this was the second consecutive film about interpersonal relationships and family bonds to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The book ends with Calvin and Conrad renting a new home in Evanston. The movie just ends with the two men at the house in Lake Forest.
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In the book Jeanine Pratt and Conrad have a sexual relationship; in the movie they don't.
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Mary Tyler Moore admitted that, while acting in this movie, occasionally her voice would start quavering in a quintessential Mary Richards/"Oh Mr. Grant!" type way. Redford would shout "Cut!" and they would have to reshoot it.
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Originally the studio wanted Redford himself to play Calvin, but he declined. He said that role was too "predictable" for him, saying the casting would be more interesting if he stayed behind the camera. And originally Redford had chosen Sutherland to play Berger, the psychiatrist. But Sutherland said that his playing that kind of oddball eccentric would have been predictable, since he normally plays that type of role. He was more interested in the WASP Dad Calvin.
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The high school used for filming was Lake Forest High School, East Campus. The East Campus pool was not large enough to move the filming equipment into the balcony and bleachers. The pool used was from Lake Forest College. The East Campus has been remodeled and no longer looks as it did when the movie was made.
Jeanine called Conrad a tenor, but he is a baritone.
Berger says to Conrad: "Feelings are scary. And sometimes they're painful. And if you can't feel pain, then you're not going to feel anything else, either. You know what I'm saying?" This can be seen as the message of the whole movie; about the disastrous impact you have on your mental health and your life when you suppress emotions. The character of Beth can be seen as a powerful metaphor for that, since she spends so much effort suppressing all emotions, and she ends up losing her family and everything of value in her life as a result.
Mary Tyler Moore's sister, Elizabeth, and her son, Richie, born just three months apart, both died during production of this film. Both thought to be suicide, her sister's case was the only one to be officially ruled an intentional drug overdose.
Lee Remick and Anne Margaret were both considered for the role of Beth, but Redford said in interviews that he had seen Mary Tyler Moore looking depressed on the beach one morning, (this was shortly after the death of her son, ironically enough). He said Mary Tyler Moore, in this sad depressed state, was who he envisioned when he read the book. And even though he screen tested both Anne Margaret and Lee Remick, and came close to offering them both the part, he never really shook that image, and eventually offered Mary Tyler Moore the role.
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In the book Conrad learns of Karen's suicide through an article in the newspaper; in the movie he learns because he calls her home and someone (it seems like her father) tells him over the phone.
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In the book and in the early drafts of the screenplay, Calvin has a drinking problem. The movie glosses over this, except during the party scene where you see him getting drunk, followed by the scene in the car where Beth yells at him for drinking too much. Other than that, it's never mentioned.
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Mary Tyler Moore admitted that she became annoyed with the would-be compliment, "Boy, you were a bitch in that movie!". She said that she didn't see it that way. She thought of Beth as a victim, that she was brought up being taught to do things a certain way. She also admitted that Beth's experience mirrors her own experience.
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Timothy Hutton said that when he was first offered a part, Ann Margret and Anthony Franciosa were slated to play his parents.
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In the novel, Buck's real name was Jordan, and Buck was just his nickname. In the movie they just call him Buck, but in early drafts of the screenplay his name was Jason.
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Received an R rating for relatively mild profanity; this was before the PG13 rating.
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If Elizabeth McGovern had turned down the role of Jeannine (which she almost did so she could go to Julliard) the role would have gone to Marie Osmond. Luckily Redford worked it out with Elizabeth.
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Calvin erroneously blames himself for Conrad's suicide attempt, just as Conrad erroneously blames himself for Buck's drowning. And Beth erroneously thinks that Calvin blames her for both Conrad's suicide attempt and Buck's drowning.
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The majority of the movie was filmed on location in and around the northern suburbs of Chicago. The scene set in Texas was actually filmed in Apple Valley, California, at the Apple Valley Country Club, just down the street from Roy Rogers' house. Note the Joshua trees in the background.
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One of two Robert Redford movies released in 1980 that were Oscar nominated. This film received six Oscar nominations whilst Brubaker (1980) was an Academy Award nominee for Best Original Screenplay.
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The rare movie where the psychiatrist is the hero; and where psychiatry is portrayed as helpful, not harmful. Most movies portray psychiatrists as villainous; witness another major release from 1980, Dressed to Kill, where the psychiatrist is a villainous perverted psychopath. Psychiatrists across the country have praised Ordinary People over the years for presenting a positive and for once flattering portrait of their profession.
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In the book and the first draft of the screenplay Berger coaches Conrad through his sexual relationship with Jeanine.
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Redford approached Paramount, and both Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenburg hated the story and the idea; but Barry Diller was higher up on the food chain and he okayed the project.
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In "Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted", Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's book about "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", Mary Tyler Moore herself spoke about her guardedness with other people: "'I'm cautious in my dealings. I'm a hang back person when things get uncomfortable. I'm reserved, I guess,'" she said. If you compare this to the way Calvin describes Beth at the end of Ordinary People, you can see the similarities between Mary Tyler Moore and the character Beth: "You're so cautious. And I don't know if you're really giving. You can't handle mess. You need everything neat and easy. Maybe you can't love anybody," Calvin says to Beth.
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Dr. Tyrone C. Berger (Judd Hirsch) tells Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton) that he looks like something out of "The Body Snatchers", referring to the 1955 science fiction novel by Jack Finney. Two years earlier, Donald Sutherland (Calvin Jarrett) played Dr. Matthew Bennell in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), the second film adaptation of the novel.
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At age 20, Timothy Hutton became the youngest Best Supporting Actor Oscar Winner.
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It's ironic (maybe intentionally so) that Buck dies by drowning when he is a champion swimmer. Buck has won so many awards for his performance on the swim team over the years, and yet Lake Michigan ends up killing him in spite of this. It is also ironic that Conrad, the lesser swimmer, less awarded and lower on the totem pole with the swim team, survives the storm and makes it safely to shore with boat in tow.
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The novel's character of Suzanne Mosley, a girl in Conrad's trig class who has a crush on him, was dropped from the movie.
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Pachelbel's Canon, the main theme played throughout the film, gained a good deal of new popularity as a result of this film. It is tradionally played at weddings.
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Adam Baldwin plays (Stillman) a bully and a villain in this movie, who antogonizes Conrad to violence. "Ordinary People" was filmed in Chicago and released on September 19, 1980. Days later, on September 26th,"My Bodyguard" is released, another Chicago film about a tormented high school boy. Baldwin would play the hero Ricky Linderman in this movie who saves Chris Makepiece from the bullies that are pursuing him.
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Robert Redford said there's a lot of Beth in Mary Tyler Moore.
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The Bernard Slade play attended by Calvin and Beth was also made into the film Same Time, Next Year (1978), starring Alan Alda in the lead male role. Both Alda and Donald Sutherland have portrayed Hawkeye Pierce in adaptations of Richard Hooker's 1968 novel "MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors": Sutherland in MASH (1970) and Alda in M*A*S*H (1972).
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This was part of a wave of serious and intense family dramas in the late 70s and early 80s, a trilogy of sorts, all involving some intense standoff and showdown between family members, ending in a death, or a separation or divorce; starting with Kramer vs Kramer, following with Ordinary People, culminating with Terms of Endearment.
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Pauline Kael said "There's a nasty almost conscious incestuousness to Beth that's always lurking and never brought to the surface... The movie is as sanitized as the upper middle class life it sets out to expose. And it's as empty and as orderly".
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One of only five films to win an Academy Award for Best Picture without being nominated for any technical achievements. The other four films are: The Broadway Melody (1929), Grand Hotel (1932), It Happened One Night (1934) and Annie Hall (1977).
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Kay Lenz was offered the role of Jeannine Pratt, but ultimately turned it down.
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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.
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The book takes place in September 1975.
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In the book Berger's office is in Chicago. In the movie it's Highland Park. (Chicago makes more sense if you are trying to establish Berger as a non-WASP outsider with a seedy office. Highland Park is very upscale).
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Donald Sutherland (Calvin Jarrett) previously portrayed another grieving father, John Baxter, in Don't Look Now (1973).
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Mary Tyler Moore's last film performance before this was 1969's "Change of Habit", with Elvis Presley and Ed Asner.
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Beth and Calvin met in college. She was an English major, he was pre-law.
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The film cast includes one Oscar winner: Timothy Hutton; and three Oscar nominees: Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch and Elizabeth McGovern. (None of them were such at the time of the film's release).
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The second in a series of Oscar winning films about bad mothers; the first would be "Kramer vs Kramer", the next one after " Ordinary People" would be "Terms of Endearment".
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Both My Bodyguard and Ordinary People take place in Chicago, and they were released within days of eachother in September of 1980. Both involve a high school boy (Ricky Linderman and Conrad Jarrett) who attempt suicide by slashing their wrists because they feel despondent about and responsible for the death of a brother who dies in a tragic accident. (It's an accident with a gun in My Bodyguard and a boating accident in Ordinary People). The hero in each is a rich boy with a name that begins with 'C' (Clifford and Conrad). And Adam Baldwin co-stars in both movies, but in My Bodyguard he's Linderman, one of the heroes, and in Ordinary People he's Stillman, a villain.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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Despite numerous requests over the years for Judith Guest to write a sequel, she refused to do so, insisting that the story is over.
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Calvin sits at the table in between Beth and Conrad, symbolic of his position between the two of them; stuck in the middle.
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All three of the leads have several moments when they "space out", have some sort of a flashback, and then are brought back to reality by other characters in the scene. Beth spaces out twice; once when she goes into Buck's room and looks around wistfully in a sort of trance; only to be brought back to reality by Conrad walking in the room. She has another scene like this when she's shopping for clothes and stares at one item for several minutes; only to be brought back by the sales woman who asks if she wants it in her size. Conrad spaces out and has flashbacks to the funeral when he is riding to school in the car with his friends to school; he also spaces out when he is in English class and his teacher has to ask him about the Jude the Obscure reading assignment, twice. Calvin spaces out when he is talking to Ray his business partner about their secretary. He also has flashbacks when he is jogging in the middle of the movie. And he has flashbacks when he and Beth are flying home from Houston; dreaming of younger, happier times in his marriage to Beth.
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Beth's maiden name is Butler. The Butlers are the other primary family in the book and movie; Ward, Beth's brother in Houston and his wife Audrey; and Beth's parents Howard and Ellen.
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In the original screenplay both Conrad and Calvin narrated certain fantasy sequences and flashback sequences.
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At the end of the book Beth tells Calvin she's going to Europe. In the movie she goes back to Houston to stay with her brother.
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In the book Conrad and Jeannine write guitar music together; in the film, they don't.
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This was Robert Redford's only film as a director until The Milagro Beanfield War (1988).
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There are some plot similarities between this film and "On Golden Pond". In both, you have a troubled child confronting a cold parent who has alienated them, and the other, more supportive, parent who helps from the sidelines. Although in the Ernest Thompson play it's a cold father, Norman, played by Henry Fonda, not a cold mother as with Mary Tyler Moore's Beth. The troubled child is female, Chelsea, played by Jane Fonda in On Golden Pond, as opposed to the troubled male child, Conrad, played by Timothy Hutton in Ordinary People. And the warm supportive parent is a woman in On Golden Pond, Katherine Hepburn, and a man in Ordinary People, Donald Sutherland. In both movies the "bad" parent is shown to have mental health issues; Norman is facing senility, and Beth is pathologically grief-stricken. The outcomes are dramatically different; in On Golden Pond, Chelsea's reconciliation attempt works; in Ordinary People, Conrad's doesn't, and Beth ends up abandoning the family.
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One of the books in Conrad's bedroom is "The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien. The novel was later adapted into The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) which, like this film, won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
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Critics compared this to the works of Eugene O'Neill and Wayne Dyer.
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James Sikking was cast in this film after previously working with Robert Redford in The Electric Horseman (1979).
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This is the first of two films in which Donald Sutherland plays a father whose son drowned. The second is Forsaken (2015).
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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Judd Hirsch appeared in Taxi directed by James Burrows. James Burrows also directed The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In addition to all this Hirsch appeared in Rhoda, the Mary Tyler Moore spin off.
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Calvin's nickname in the book was Cal, but in the movie everyone just calls him Calvin.
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