Tag Archives: Ordinary People

Bobby Deerfield (1977)

At least as far as the majority of the American public is concerned, Erich Maria Remarque is one of those authors who only wrote one book. It’s not true, of course, but his seminal All Quiet on the Western Front eclipsed his other work in the same way that Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest eclipsed everything else they wrote. In some cases this all-encompassing book isn’t even the best work by the given author, and there’s certainly a case to be made for that notion as far as Remarque is concerned. Heaven Has No Favorites, his 1961 novel, was serialized before publication but joined the rest of his works in achieving only minor notoriety. But it’s a hell of a book, heartbreaking and beautifully written even with the knowledge that it’s been translated from German.

And it would be nice to say that Bobby Deerfield yanked Heaven out of obscurity, but it really didn’t. Alvin Sargent (who would eventually win an Oscar for his screenplay for Ordinary People) penned the adaptation of Remarque’s novel, and the treatment soon piqued the interest of Sydney Pollack. By this point Pollack was well-established in Hollywood, having the Robert Redford-starrers Jeremiah Johnson and Three Days of the Condor under his belt, and so the next stop in the life of the script was in front of the on-fire Al Pacino. Pacino was drawn to the role of American F1 driver Bobby Deerfield, saying he identified with his journey more than any role he’d taken to date.

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Force Majeure (2014)

Whenever a perfect little family poses for a picture like the one taken in the opening scene of Force Majeure, you pretty much know they’re in for some trouble. It’s an oft-used trope showing how easily people can slip into a display of happiness, showing how perception can sometimes count for everything — we touched on a similar scene in our discussion of Robert Redford’s Ordinary People, a film which is on the whole a good touchstone for the themes of Force Majeure. Though the Swedish film suffers slightly from swaths of introspection that last just a bit too long, Force is still one of the most well-crafted family dramas of the past year.

That family is dad Tomas, mom Ebba, little daughter Vera and littler son Harry. They’re on a weeklong getaway at a beautiful mountainside resort in the French Alps for some skiing and relaxation. It’s family time, which Ebba subtly notes has been a much-needed side effect of Tomas’s busy work schedule. This is precious time, so the family does everything together. They ski together, they brush their teeth together, they sleep together on the big master bed. They eat lunch together. They get engulfed by an avalanche together. Family stuff.

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Film & TV News: February 2

News

The Imitation Game won the 2015 USC Scripter Award this past Saturday, which honors both screenwriter (Graham Moore) and original source author (Andrew Hodges). The other nominees were Gone Girl, Inherent Vice, Wild and The Theory of Everything.

-The Sundance Film Fest Awards were announced, with Me & Earl & the Dying Girl taking a Grand Jury Prize and Robert Eggers collecting the Directing Award for the horror film The Witch.

-In casting news, Rose Byrne will be returning for X-Men: Apocalypse after having sat out for Days of Future Past, the American remake of Sleepless Night announced Jamie Foxx and Michelle Monaghan as leads, and Matthew McConaughey joined Born to Run. Aside from that, it was a fairly uneventful week for casting.

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Ordinary People (1980)

Halfway through Ordinary People, there is a scene in which high schooler Conrad Jarrett’s parents are taking family portraits. His mother and father take turns posing with their only son while his grandparents run the camera. Conrad awkwardly folds his arms, not knowing whether to smile. Father flashes a genuine grin, truly relishing the moment. When it’s Mother’s turn, the two stand together uncomfortably. Father’s trying to take the perfect picture, but Mother doesn’t know how to show Conrad affection, and her fake smile is growing tired. Father takes too long with the camera, Mother gets increasingly frustrated, Grandparents are talking over everyone as usual, and suddenly Conrad explodes. He’s had enough. Not so much with the photo, but with his mother’s inability to stand next to him and smile. Everyone freezes, except Mother. She carries on like nothing happened, hoping to fade back into normality like another ordinary person.

It’s a perfect representation of the family’s dynamic, though not the only one. Ordinary People is made up of small moments like these where characters aren’t saying how they feel, partly to keep up appearances, and partly because they don’t actually understand how they feel. In his directorial debut, Robert Redford proves to be an actor’s director, finding the ticks and gestures that characterize these humans better than any line of dialogue would. This is a movie about a family’s lack of understanding, of each other, yes, but mostly of themselves. They fidget, they pace, they stare blankly, lost in thought. They don’t understand why they feel and act the way they do, so they look to blame each other. After all, Conrad once screams, “It’s gotta be somebody’s fault or there ain’t no goddamn point.”

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