Ordinary People is a hopeful film about a Bourgeoisie family with WASP psychosis that is cured by a magical Jewish psychiatrist. The film won four academy awards and was the directorial debut from Robert Redford. Ordinary People is also fairly weak and hollow drama that examines the character conflicts in a typical banal white upper middle class family. The film was most likely so critically acclaimed because of it’s endorsement of psychiatry and psychoanalysis.The films protagonist, Conrad, is a quite conflicted character.
The order and discipline so commonly associated with people of Conrad’s over privileged background is coming to shambles. After the accidental boating death of his universally loved brother Buck (and suffering from survivor guilt), Conrad made the decision to attempt suicide and fails. Once released from a mental hospital, he still is incapable of functioning in his orderly upper middle class background. He eventually starts to see a mysterious psychiatrist Dr. Berger.
Dr. Berger uses unconventional and psychoanalytic psychiatry techniques in hopes of rescuing Conrad from his gentile psychosis. We never get to know anything about Dr. Berger’s character aside for his brilliant ability to deracinate a WASP from their pathological roots. He gives no evidence of his true character as he certainly does not want to reveal his own “psychosis.” Dr. Berger seems to suffer from a sort of sociopath behavior bent on subversion for subversions sake. He would have made a great disciple under Sigmund Freud.
Sigmund Freud was heavily influenced by his contempt for German culture and strong ties to his Jewish background. He considered Germans to be pathological because of their emphasis on gender differences (among other things). He so arrogantly sought to “cure” Germans (referring to them as Aryans) of their “irrational” cultural heritage and norms. Freud further displayed his disdain for Western Civilization when he stated, “We are bringing America the plague” in reference to his introduction of psychoanalysis to the United States. Interestingly enough, Freud refused to ever have himself psychoanalyzed. This is very telling of both his character and agenda. Dr. Berger mirrors Freud in contemporary (or at least for when the film was made) practice.
Ordinary People is one of the more subtle Hollywood propaganda films that I have seen. It let’s the WASP upper middle class know that they can cool down with a little help from wacky Jewish psychiatrists. Dr. Berger is a priest of the New world Order. His methods are not to be questioned and he is a producer of crucial psychological results. He encourages weakness and that weakness results in a sort of happy nihilism.
By the end of Ordinary People, Conrad has less control over himself than before. The difference is that Conrad is now accepting of his weakness. It has been said many times that psychoanalysis has actually made patients worse due to their consciousness of their own faults and hang-ups. The real question to ask when Ordinary People reaches its conclusion is whether or not Conrad was cured. I highly doubt it.