‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ explores the pain people share
Back in 1979, “Kramer vs. Kramer” caused quite a stir.
Here was a film that simply dared to explore the bitterness people can share when they focus on what they no longer share.
Without explosions, excessive visuals, or exaggerated characters, the movie reminded us how powerful film can be when the camera explores people. Now, some 40 years later, Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” creates much the same impact.
After all, the impact of divorce is forever felt.
No matter who is at fault or how fair the proceedings may be, the separation of family hits everyone connected. And, regardless of the issues that may lead to divorce, this change in a family severely impacts everyone.
“Kramer vs. Kramer” puts you in the middle of the tug of war between two young parents who decide to divorce. Caught in the middle is their young son who, like most young boys, deeply loves both parents, and would never imagine having to choose which one to live with. When his mother abruptly leaves, and his dad has to relearn the household basics, the young boy begins a journey to accept change in his life, to become more flexible in his expectations, and to make the most of the time he has with both parents.
The film does not take sides. Both father and mother can be selfish and giving, at almost the same time, and both want the best for the child they share. But neither seems capable to separate their feelings for each other from creating a compromise that might be best for the child. They each continue to push separate agendas with, it feels, only themselves in mind. Ultimately each, in their own ways, does learn, but someone must pay the price.
The film does not try to defend either point of view, or persuade you to side with one parent or the other. Instead director Robert Benton examines how people try to adjust to trying challenges. Through Benton’s eyes, Ted is not a perfect father; he must learn to reach beyond himself and care for more than how his career advances. Benton makes it easy to see how an insecure Joanna might have let the marriage get to her. But the director also gives Ted the chance to grow and change, something Joanna resists acknowledging when she returns to their lives. Through it all Benton wisely helps us remember that, as adults address their own emotions, a child gets caught in all the shrapnel.
The strength of “Kramer” is its objectivity. Benton is too savvy and caring to let opinion dilute the artistic and emotional value of the film. We never know who will win this struggle, or who should win, but we clearly know who will lose. Because the film never favors one parent or the other, it maintains its focus on how the issues between parents have lasting impact on a child, no matter how well intentioned the parents may be.
“Kramer vs. Kramer” offers no easy answers or simple explanations. When parents divorce, life forever changes in small ways that add up, from who sits at the dinner table, to how holidays are celebrated, to where children sleep. Parents, as they negotiate every step, can forget that children feel every bump. Dividing a home ultimately divides a heart. And that does not have a happy ending, not even in the movies.
“Kramer vs. Kramer,” released in 1979, is rated PG, and runs 1 hour, 45 minutes.