As you read you will learn information of the 1980 movie Ordinary People, the theory of family systems, and how they relate to one another. I will describe some basic information about the movie as well as key points that I feel will connect to the idea of family systems. I will also touch base on strictly the theory of Family systems for a better understand of the characters and plot of the movie. The movie, Ordinary People, is about a family that is currently suffering the unexpected death of their son, Buck, due to a boating accident.
Shortly after, their youngest son and now only child, Conrad, tries to committee suicide by slitting his wrists, but was saved by his father, Calvin, who found him in the bathroom. Conrad was with Buck on the boat and witnessed his brother’s death. He then stayed in a hospital for four months, and during his stay there his mother, Beth, never came to visit him. Briefly after he is released he starts seeing a therapist, who eventually becomes Calvin’s therapist as well, named Dr. Berger. Dr. Berger progressively forces Conrad to feel all the emotions he was holding in and overcome them.
You see the struggles the family goes through individually as well as a whole, trying to hold themselves together. Conrad let’s the guilt of his brother’s death eat away at him. At one point during the movie Conrad says, “it has to be someone’s fault, otherwise there’s no point. ” Meaning that he blames himself for his brothers death all on his own, but also feels that he owes it to his parents for there to be someone to blame. The Mother repeatedly caused me to feel anger. I truly believe she was strictly a selfish woman, cared too much about her social status, and didn’t love her son.
In the movie you learn that she cared for her oldest son Buck more than she did Conrad. Because of Conrad’s current state love from both parents is truly needed considering the shame he feels he brought upon them. Beth’s bitter feelings and lack of love towards Conrad is never fully acknowledged until the near end of the movie but is expressed passive aggressively from the beginning. Calvin is a good hearted and honest man who sadly is dealing with the conflict of trying to reunite his wife and son. He shows a great deal of concern for the both of them especially Conrad, but becomes overwhelmed and finally has a session with Dr.
Berger. He comes to the realization that he can’t continue to love his wife anymore. In the movie he tells Beth that he’s unsure if she’s truly giving. He says to her, “everything would have been fine if there wasn’t a mess, but you can’t handle messes. ” At the end of the movie Beth leaves to go to Houston Texas to stay with her brother, and you see Calvin and Conrad have this moment where you can honestly see they have forgiving themselves for everything and Calvin let’s Conrad know how he loves him.
When doing research for this paper, I took the time to look through almost all my art therapy books. And every one of them devotes at least two pages to a whole chapter strictly on families. Emphasizing the fact that the family is a system and in order for things to flow properly within a family, everyone needs to participate. There may still be some gray areas but for the most part it has been agreed that family is a system, but in what way does a family have the formal qualities of a system? According to Von Bertalanffy he states that a system is, “entities standing in interaction. And a family, as a household, has been stated that the behavior of any single person within that family is at all times a function of behavior of all the other members. Which interprets that when one member of the family changes their behavior it will affect the entire family as a whole in a meaningful way. Research has also shown that families portray constitutive characteristics. Meaning that the group, or family, varies with its components instead of with numbers. For example when a baby is born into a family it isn’t the same group with just a new addition, it is now considered a whole new group.
The same thing would apply if someone in the family has died. There’s always that possibility that a non-family member can affect the relationship of the family. Families have their own way of operating as well. One way is differentiated operating where they have chosen to be distinguished as a unit that thinks and feels alike, or undifferentiated operating, where they function much more independently. I’ve learned repeatedly that the family is a “whole” or “we” unit, but there also happens to be relationship and communication dynamics in the interior of the family.
For example the parents can perceive their own type of relationship. Usually it’s either marital schism or a marital skew. The skewed type is a relationship that lets the parents compliment one another very well, mainly because there is one spouse who is dominate and the other is a who is dependent on the dominate spouse. The schism type are spouse that are simple just incompatible to one another, this tends to lead to extreme anger and hostility. I’m sure we all have seen that change in the relationship between spouses unwillingly affects the parent child relationship.
There are some families that use the defense mechanism of denial to solve issues or conflicts. This can be called pseudomutuality stance. When the family comes across any issue of anytime they seem to think they have solved the problem just by ignoring it. Bateson came up with a formulation theory call “double bind”. It’s a way of hiding certain emotions by appearing somewhat contradictory or obscure about them. What I found to be interesting with Ordinary people in relation to family systems is the conflicts and struggles that physically and emotionally happening with in the family but at the same time they are still functioning as a whole.
The movie basically did a metaphorical domino affect, as you see the family slowly falling down. Like I mentioned earlier when a family gains or losses a family member it is now considered a whole new group. Sadly for the Jarrett family they lost a son and were now dealing with adjustments of living, in a sense, as a new family. Calvin, the father, does a very good job staying positive but still recognizing that something horrible happened to their family and things still need to be dealt with. Beth seems to only worry about the material things as a form of a distraction.
You see her focusing on setting the silver just perfectly; worrying about what clothes her husband is going to wear, and she worries more about making sure that what is happening inside the family stays between the family. Conrad is emotionally going through a lot but tries his best to keep it inside. I think the way the Jarrett family is trying to cope with their new group is a perfect example for how the behaviors in the family will change because of one person. One of the first things that happens is when Conrad decides to start seeing Dr. Berger. This brings a sense of relief to Calvin, and embarrassment to Beth.
In one scene, Calvin is talking to a friend about the progress Conrad is making and that he was currently seeing a therapist, during the driving home Beth raises her voice and starts telling Calvin that he drinks too much at parties, and their family issues will be dealt within their own family, and no one needs to know anything else. Also with the help of Dr. Berger, Conrad starts realizing the extent of how distant him and his mother truly are. Through this he starts questioning her motives more, and he even tries to show her more love and affection.
There’s a scene in the movie where all three family members get into an argument because Conrad quit the swimming team. During the fight Conrad says to his father, “Can’t you see she hates me! ” Calvin reacts almost as if it was the first time he was hearing any of this. Because of this you start to see Calvin question his wife’s love for not only Conrad but for him as well. I Personally think the moment he realized that Beth wasn’t the woman he thought she was, was the scene in the garage right after he had spoken to Dr. Berger. He confesses to her that on the day of Bucks funeral, she told him to wear different shoes and shirt.
He says it has always haunted him because he just couldn’t understand how on the day of their son’s funeral she was worried about what he was wearing. I like to see the behavior change in Calvin and Conrad as more of an emotional growth for the best. Because they were willing to change and face the conflicts of their family and Beth wasn’t, she ended up leaving. Beth’s makes it very clear that she wants her family to appear as though everything is ok and that the family is happy again. She wants her family to appear to be differentiated operating, but it reality they are undifferentiated operating.
I find this also reflect Calvin and Beth’s marital status as well. Both of them very independent people but for different reason, I would say they are the schism types of spouses. This type of relationship usually ends badly and they very hostile to each other. I don’t think Calvin and Beth took it to this extreme but I do this they were incompatible. I think each family member was demonstrating the “pseudomutuality stance”, which seems somewhat normal due to the fact that were trying to emotionally over come many struggle within the family in such a short period of time.
However I found it interesting by how shocked Calvin looked when Conrad told him he thought his mother hated him, that she always liked Buck more, and that she just wasn’t providing him with any affection that he needed. I believe his father had an idea that these issues were real but ignored them. It makes sense, because I asked myself what mother doesn’t love their own child. But it happens. Once he removed the denial he then saw the truth. I mentioned the theory “double bind” because the example used in the book of “Clinical Art Therapy” by Landgarten, is extremely similar to the Beth and Conrad relationship or lack there of. An Illustration of this mixed communications portrayed by a mother who has difficulty in tolerating her some closeness. She repeatedly finds herself making excuse to get rid of him. For example, with a frown on her face, mother says, “I love you so much that I want you to go outside and get some fresh air so you can stay healthy. ”
The patent’s overt message denies her feelings of wanting to push her son away. If the child correctly perceives the annoyed expression and confronts his mother, he would be punished by her accusations of not being appreciated for her love and concern. Beth repeatedly tries to make plans that don’t include Conrad, she mentions the possibility of sending him to boarding school, refuses to go see Dr. Berger with him, and she never visited him while he was in the hospital. Once Conrad starting questioning his mother’s motives, she started punishing him along with the people around her. She felt that everyone was too loving, and that she shouldn’t be blamed for not feeling the need to hug him every time he does something right. Interlocked Emotional Unit unto itself