29 April 2009

58. Ordinary People

This is an interesting one. It is peculiar in a variety of ways, a messy script about a messy family and a messy situation.

The plot is this: a son is back from the hospital after having attempted suicide. This was his reaction to the death of his brother, who was clearly the favorite of their mother. The question of the movie is: can they hold it together and remain a family, or does their unit tear apart?

It is messy like this: the structure isn't solid. It's not bad, it just isn't as clear-cut as a lot of the other scripts on this list. The inciting incident happens early, at minute 8, and it's a weird one: the mother dumps french toast down the sink. That's it -- no fireworks, no yelling, blink-and-you-miss-it. But that's the point: these are ordinary people, and the things that affect their lives are small, deliberate, and cut to the bone. The mom decides she can't live with the pain of losing her favorite child, doesn't know how to deal with her other son and the silence and tip-toeing going on in the house, and this is her rebellion: I will not bend to another's problems.

It's also messy because it is about Love. Look at this, a line from a play within the movie: "I've never been out of love with you." And then the mother asks, in the car driving away: "Did we like it?" They are a unit -- they stand or fall together, and they all falling. And when they fall, it becomes heart-breaking: the mother yells on the golf course: what mother doesn't love her child? Her, she realizes, and has to leave the frame. And the father sits at the table at the end and says, "I don't love you anymore, and I don't know what to do without that." What else is there?

Since it is about a family, there is no real main character. More messiness. We think it is Hutton, but I'd argue that Sutherland is the real main character. He's the patriarch, for one, and he's the one who brings the movie to it's climax: the mother leaving. And throughout, he's the glue that tries to make it all stick together, from trying to find common ground in fights, to going to therapy himself.

Still, she leaves. Will she come back? This is ordinary life with ordinary people, so there's no way to tell. It's messy, a contrast to all those pretty, clean houses with those well-kept lawns.


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