Ordinary People is a 1980 American motion picture drama and the directorial debut of Robert Redford. The story is about the disintegration of an upper middle class family in Lake Forest, Illinois, following the death of the oldest son. It was based upon the 1976 novel by Judith Guest.
The film was a critical and commercial success, winning that year's Academy Award for Best Picture and various other major film awards.
The Jarretts, an affluent family from Chicago's North Shore, try to return to normal life after the attempted suicide of their youngest teenage son, Conrad, who has recently come home following a four-month stay in a psychiatric hospital. Alienated from his friends and family, Conrad, having left the hospital, must still see a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger, who learns that the boy had been involved in a sailing accident that killed his older brother, Buck. Buck, a superior athlete and student to Conrad, clearly came first in everyone's estimation (including Conrad's). Calvin Jarrett, the father, awkwardly struggles to connect with his surviving son, who is tormented by clinical depression, survivor guilt, and post-traumatic stress disorder. His wife Beth, who clearly loved the dead son more, has shut off her emotions and vulnerability and has become obsessed with maintaining the appearance of perfection and normality.
As Conrad successfully works with Dr. Berger and learns to allow himself to have feelings, he starts dating Jeannine, a kind and nonjudgmental girl from his school choir, and begins to regain a sense of optimism. But the suicide of a friend from the hospital threatens to send him spiraling back into depression.
Finally, Conrad is able to stop blaming himself for Buck's death, and the boy realizes his mother's frailties--and Dr. Berger advises him to accept her as she is. Calvin, aided by some sessions with Dr. Berger himself, realizes that he no longer loves Beth. As Beth packs to leave, her facade is momentarily shattered by a sob, but the mask returns.
Judd Hirsch's portrayal of Dr. Berger has also drawn praise from many in the psychiatric community as one of the rare times their profession is shown in a positive light in the movies, although some consider his portrayal to be too positive, thus lending an air of one-dimensionality. Hirsch was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, losing out to costar Hutton.
This was also the first of two times director Martin Scorsese (who directed that year's Raging Bull) lost the Oscar to actors making their directorial debut (the other was ten years later with Kevin Costner on Dances With Wolves).