Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) – A divorce tale that is moving, hard-hitting and thought-provoking

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I’ve come across people – especially women – who have confided me in that they haven’t discovered themselves and possibly would’ve if they weren’t stuck in some loveless marriage that they didn’t want and one that isn’t conducive to their personal growth in any way. Joanna (Meryl Streep) is one such woman and she is one of the principal characters in Robert Benton’s Kramer vs Kramer. The film tells the story of one couple but is essentially the story of millions of couples on this planet. There are men and women that are still trapped in such marriages. Some are longing to get out and some have already succeeded in getting out and gone on to discover who they really are.

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Dustin Hoffman here plays Ted Kramer, an advertising executive who is so preoccupied with his work that he has no time for his wife’s emotional needs. On the day that he calls “one of the five best days of his life”, Ted is given a new account and comes home to share this news with Joanna. But she has a news of her own to tell him – she wants to leave him. She leaves their son Billy with him and now he has to juggle both his career as well their son. Things take a turn for the worse when she returns after fifteen months to claim custody of their son, just when father and son have begun to develop a strong bond.

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I like the fact that film doesn’t take sides and blatantly tell us who is right or who is wrong. They both are right and they both are wrong. We are initially led to feel angry towards Joanna because she decides to leaves her husband and son one day out of the blue, because she has grown increasingly frustrated and resent the fact
that her husband doesn’t allow her to grow as an individual. She is looking for her identity and thinks that she would turn suicidal if she is forced to spend another day with her husband. We can see that it’s been very difficult for her. We start to feel for her and we can see why. Now, we look at Ted and realize how clumsy he is
left to manage his life all by himself. Hell, he doesn’t even know what grade his son is in when he takes him to school the next morning.

New PictureThe film won 5 Academy Awards including Best Actor and Best Actress for both Hoffman and Streep. The dynamite casting here is what elevates the film. I mean, Hoffman and Streep together in a film? That’s like watching a great acting class. There are plenty of memorable scenes, especially the ones involving Hoffman and Justin Henry (the actor who plays his son). The film was adapted by Benton himself from the novel of the same name by Avery Corman. I’m surprised at the Box Office success of the film, considering the year it came out. I mean, this was two years after Star Wars came out and many were under the assumption that hard-hitting relationship dramas like these wouldn’t sell. But it did.

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