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Ordinary People

Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton, Judd Hirsch, M. Emmet Walsh, Elizabeth McGovern, Dinah Manoff, Fredric Lehne, James Sikking, Basil Hoffman, Scott Doebler, Quinn K. Redeker, Mariclare Costello, Meg Mundy
Mary Tyler Moore | Philip Guerin
Spoiler alert
Blog entry

This story provides a compelling illustration of how the loss of a child can throw an apparently well-functioning family into chaos. Does the surviving son suffer from bereavement, a Major Depressive Episode, or posttraumatic stress disorder? Was the portrayal of the mother unfairly negative relative to that of the father?

Portrayed as one of the most human and approachable, psychiatrists portrayed in cinema, Dr. Berger meets with Conrad alone at his office in the middle of the night. Is such a risky practice wise or necessary? He also hugs Conrad and tells him he is his friend in one encounter. Is this a boundary violation?

Conrad has attempted suicide, and a girl he met at the psychiatric hospital is reported to have killed herself. He has also undergone electroconvulsive therapy, but I recall no mention of pharmacotherapy which might have been indicated for two of the diagnoses above. Is it really plausible that psychotherapy might have successfully treated what ECT could not, and without medication? I suspect so, and often patients get better without explanation. What approach might a family psychotherapist use with this case?

Compare to Rabbit Hole, especially the two bereaved mothers.

High school student Conrad notices the cemetery. (0:11)

Conrad calls psychiatrist Dr. Berger. (0:12)

Conrad experiences a nightmare. Flashback? (0:14)

Conrad meets Dr. Berger in his office. Berger: “Feeling depressed?”
”People nervous, treating you like you’re a dangerous character.”
Conrad: “I tried to off myself.”
Berger, referring to Dr. Crawford: “He said you had a brother who died.” (0:16)

Swimming coach Salan asks Conrad, “Are you on medication... tranquilizers, anything?”
”Did I ask you before if they gave you shock out there?”
”I would never have let them put electricity in my head.” (0:22)

Conrad's friend Dickie tells his friend Lazenby, referring to Salan, “Drives me nuts.”
Lazenby: ”Everybody drives you nuts.” (0:22)

Conrad's attorney father Calvin tells Conrad's mother Beth, “I’m not drunk.”
Beth: ”Why did you tell Annie Marshal that Conrad is seeing a psychiatrist?”
”I think that it is a very private matter.” (0:32)

In a psychotherapy session, Conrad tells Berger, “What kind of a psychiatrist are you?”
Berger: "Something's making you nervous. You're making me nervous."
Conrad: ”Maybe I need a tranquilizer.”
Berger: “Tranquilizer?”
”It’s not my impression that you need a tranquilizer.”
”That’s why you need a tranquilizer?” (0:33)

His friend Karen from the psychiatric hospital tells Conrad, referring to the drama club and their play, “Anyway, we are going so crazy trying to get it together.” 0:36)

Conrad brings up his deceased brother Buck, but Beth avoids the subject. (0:43)

Conrad remembers Buck telling Beth, “It was crazy. We got so drunk.” (0:44)

Sesson #2. Conrad tells Berger, referring to Beth, “We just don’t connect.” (0:45)

Calvin remembers Conrad’s suicide attempt. (0:49)

Salan tells Conrad, “I excuse you from practice twice a week so you can see some shrink.” (0:51)

Session #3. Berger tells Conrad, “You’re mad as hell.”
Is the blue and green book on Berger's table a copy of Phil Guerin's book, Family Therapy: Theory and Practice? (0:52)

Beth tells her mother, “A psychiatrist.” (0:58)

Session #4. Berger: “And don’t give me, ‘I tried to kill myself.’”
Referring to Beth, ”Recognize her limitations.”
Conrad: “For trying to off myself?” (1:09)

In a session with Berger, Calvin says, “I suppose that’s what psychiatry’s about, being precise and clear and honest of course... I’m not a great believer in psychiatry... I just don’t believe in psychiatry as a panacea for everybody.”
”I knew something was wrong even before he tried to kill himself.” (1:14)

Calvin asks Beth, “Could we talk about Buck’s funeral?”
”I was crazy that day. We were going to our son’s funeral.” (1:19)

Calvin tells Beth, “I think we should go see him Beth -- Dr. Berger.” (1:22)

His friend Jeannine looks at the scars on Conrad’s wrist. (1:26)

Lazenby tells Conrad, “You know I miss him too.”
Conrad: “It hurts too much to be around you.” (1:34)

Karen’s father tells Conrad by telephone, “Karen’s dead. She killed herself.”
Conrad, holding his hands under the water in a bathroom sink, staring at the scars on his wrists, remembers the last moments before his brother’s death. Buck slides under the water. Conrad calls Berger. (1:36)

Session #5. Conrad: “It’s gotta be somebody’s fault.”
”Why’d you let go?”
Berger: “How long you gonna punish yourself?”
Conrad: “Karen. She killed herself. I just found out she’s dead.”
Berger: “What was the one wrong thing that you did?”
Conrad: “I hung on.”
Conrad and Berger embrace. (1:38)

Beth finds Calvin sitting at a table at night and asks him, “Why are you crying?” (1:53)

Calvin tells Conrad, “You were always so hard on yourself I never had the heart.” (1:59)