Ordinary People

Ordinary People

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.

Plot synopsis

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.


  • The film was shot in and around Lake Forest, Highland Park and Lake Bluff, and the school scenes were shot in Lake Forest High School. However, all of the pool scenes were filmed at Lake Forest College, because the pool at Lake Forest High School was not large enough to move the filming equipment into the balcony and bleachers.
  • Conrad's lunch with Karen was filmed at the Original Pancake House in Wilmette, Illinois. A photograph of Robert Redford, taken during production for the film, hangs above the cash register at the front entrance.
  • Cal and Beth's lunch scene was filmed at the Zodiac Restaurant in Neiman-Marcus' Northbrook Court location. The scene of Beth riding an escalator is also shot in this same Neiman-Marcus location.
  • The house used as the Jarretts' is just around the corner from the house used in Risky Business two years later.


Robert Redford and Timothy Hutton both won Academy Awards for their respective debuts: Redford as Best Director and Hutton as Best Supporting Actor. The film marked Mary Tyler Moore's career breakout from the stereotype of the light-hearted comedienne. Moore's role was well-received and obtained a nomination for Best Actress. The film also won Best Picture for 1980.

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).






External links

Search another word or see ordinary peopleon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature