I read a book once that explained an interesting thing about the psychology of group dynamics. That is, to truly know someone in the context of a group, you must also know their relationship to everyone else in that group. It’s not enough to memorize a list of faces and characteristics. To really know your fellows, you have to also grasp their relationships to all others in your group; a task which becomes exponentially more difficult as more members are added. This explains, so the theory goes, why groups in hunter-gatherer societies tend to break off once they’ve reached a certain number of people, or why teams in research and development are optimal at similar numbers. There’s some food for thought in this theory, in the implication that even in our most intimate of groups- our immediate families- our relationships are defined largely by our loved ones relationships with one another. And what then, if by some tragic occurrence, this balance were to be upended?
The Jarretts, the ordinary people of the title, are an affluent family still grieving over the loss of older son Buck, who was killed in a boating accident several months before. The film centers largely on Conrad, who by surviving the tragic incident went from being “the other son” to “the other son, who didn’t die”. Home from a stay in a mental hospital after a suicide attempt, he attempts to resume his old life at school and relationship with his parents, Beth and Calvin. Unfortunately, his emotional detachment, punctuated by episodes of anger and frustration, prevents this.
It’s an emotional detachment that his mother seems to echo in her every move. I had a visceral reaction to the character of Beth in this film, played by Mary Tyler Moore. I’ll admit it – people who are emotionally withholding terrify me. I once had a friend tell me it’s whoever emotes the least, who shows as little as possible of cards held, that holds the most power. She’d regularly sit with people silently until they spoke, even when the two of them were having a disagreement. I hate this, I find myself revolting against this – and Beth’s character has this in spades. When Calvin, her husband, tries to bring up anything emotional or anything “messy,” as he eventually deems it, she balks. She claims he can’t move on. She seems to hate displays of weakness or Continue reading