Monday, March 18, 2013
KRAMER VS. KRAMER
(December 1979, U.S.)
In the history of motion pictures...wait, let me rephrase that...in MY history of motion pictures, there were two that were so poorly timed in conjunction with the events of my own life, that the simple words of "bad coincidence" do not do it any real justice. The first was KRAMER VS. KRAMER in 1979. The second would not occur for another ten years and we won't be discussing that one until we reach the letter 'W' of my film collection. That's a very long way off.
So, in December 1979, not only was KRAMER VS. KRAMER, a story of a married couple's (Ted and Joanna Kramer, played by Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep) divorce and its impact on everyone involved, including the couple's young son Billy (played by Justin Henry), released in theaters, but personal events occurred that lead to my own parents splitting up for the second (yes, I said SECOND!) time! Enter the new year of 1980...a lot of bitterness and shouting between my parents and the first weekend my younger brother and I spend with my father finally arrives and we decide to go to the movies. Guess what we see?? You got it! KRAMER VS. KRAMER! We're we simply eager to engage ourselves with the top Oscar buzz in cinema of the time, or were we sado-masochistic gluttons for our own punishment?? Looking back on it more than thirty-three years later, I'd go with the latter, but at the time, I was a kid who simply wanted to go to the movies...any movie...whenever possible! Despite our family events, we loved the movie. We even stayed for it a second time. What'd I tell you? Gluttons for punishment!
Ted Kramer is a husband and father solely focussed on his own life and career. I suppose many marriages are like that, husband or wife. It's only when Joanna walks out on him without taking their son that he's suddenly forced to deal with Billy not just a son-by-name, but a child-in-need who must rely on his father as not only a supporter, but as a trusted friend. Ted Kramer's character is one of gradual change that's very clear as his relationship with his little boy blossoms into something very special. As a negative result, though, his work suffers and he's inevitably fired from his job just as he's about to go to court to fight for custody of his son. In a rather impressive and even miraculous turn of events, Ted is able to land another job in just twenty-four hours. It's a sad step down in his career in not only salary, but in reputation and privilege and one he's more than glad to accept if it means a chance that he'll get to keep his son. While the film clearly reflects the era of divorce in the 1970's, it also reflects the law's decision that traditionally tends to side with the mother in these situations. At the same time, the film reflects a cultural shift which occurred during the '70s, when ideas about motherhood and fatherhood were slowly changing.
KRAMER VS. KRAMER was widely praised for the way in which it gave equal weight and importance to both Joanna and Ted's points of view. The characters involved don't just talk to each other, but rather they reveal issues about themselves and can sometimes be seen in the act of learning about their own personal motives. It's a truly touching film that displays personalities changing and tough, life-changing decisions being made, particularly when Joanna decides not to take Billy with her at the end even after she's won the custody battle. It's a film I've seen many times through out my childhood and adult life. However, for the purpose of writing this blog with a fresh cinematic perspective, I watched it for the first time since becoming a father seven years ago. That makes my son the same age as Billy in the film. I can only attest that watching this film as the daddy of a little boy is far more emotionally gut-wrenching than watching it under any other circumstances. What father could not get choked up when Ted and Billy embrace each other in the kitchen while cooking french toast on the morning they're to separate and we hear Billy's soft cries of pain while Ted closes his eyes, feeling the same pain? Look at it and try to feel it's emotion...
This is, by far, one of Dustin Hoffman's greatest film achievements, right up there with THE GRADUATE (1967) and TOOTSIE (1982). It's also a true testament to the love and relationship between father and son. Every time I think I can't possibly love my own son any more than I do, I think of a meaningful film like KRAMER VS. KRAMER and I remind myself that I love him even more than I thought I ever could. So that being the case, I dedicate this post to my son Sam. Someday I hope he'll read this and know just where my heart is. I love you, buddy!
KRAMER VS. KRAMER won the Oscar for best picture of 1979. As great a film as it is, I think I would have personally chosen APOCALYPSE NOW myself. Oh, well.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Margaret Phelps: "Ted, you don't seem to realize, we have a serious problem."
Ted Kramer: "Wrong, Margaret! Me! I got the problem! All you gotta do is go out the door, go downstairs and go back to bed!"
Margaret: "Ted, the fact is, Joanna is..."
Ted: "Look, the fact is that for the last six months, I've been spitting blood to get this agency one of the biggest accounts it's ever had, and at five o'clock this afternoon, we got the account! At eight o'clock, I'm walking home with the vice president who tells me I'm, I'm gonna be the next creative director of this apartment! I come through this door to share with my with wife what promises to be one of the five best days of my life and she looks at me cool as a cucumber, tells me she doesn't wanna live with me anymore! Can't you understand what she's done to me?"
Margaret: "Yeah. She loused up one of the five best days of your life."