Thursday, May 09, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13— Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) ****

PG, 105 min.
Director: Robert Benton
Writers: Robert Benton, Avery Corman (novel)
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Justin Henry, Meryl Streep, Jane Alexander, Howard Duff, George Coe, JoBeth Williams

I don’t think I’ve watched “Kramer vs. Kramer” all the way through since I saw it in the theater with my parents when I was 8. I’ve seen parts of it since then. We studied some of the scenes for a film acting class when I was in college. But, most of my memories of the movie before my recent screening are from my 8-year-old mind.

I don’t know why my parents felt an 8-year-old would be interested in a drama about divorce, but I’m glad they brought me. It was one of those buzz films at the time it was released around the holidays of 1979. Of course, the clearest memory I had of it until now was the image of JoBeth Williams naked in the hall when young Billy asks her if she likes fried chicken. I believe that was the first time I ever saw a naked woman. I remember the shock that came out of my mother’s mouth at such a sight in a PG-rated film. My 8-year-old self didn’t think too much of it other than the fact that it was something I’d never seen before. Her nakedness seemed natural enough to me, as did Billy’s question. Ah, the days when you could show the human form in a movie without all the ridiculous Puritan backlash.

I also remember my hatred of the Meryl Streep character. I had forgotten that Benton opened the film with the image of Streep looking at her sleeping son the night she decides to leave. It illustrates the complexity of divorce. This shot assures that she loves the boy dearly. Benton does a wonderful job expressing the experience of the father and the son, however. I hated her because I was the boy. The dad is very understanding considering. He never lets the boy believe he blames the mom. He takes the blame, even though he so desperately lacks understanding of why she left.

Of course, the divorce depicted in this movie is much easier than real divorce, and yet I believe the point is to show the damaging properties of divorce. It also intends to show the necessity of divorce, a difficult task considering they chose to tell the story entirely from the point of view of those who didn’t leave. Divorce was on the rise like it had never been before when this film was released. It was an important film for people to experience. I’m glad it was a time when I could experience such an adult film as a kid.

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