It is life’s obvious fact that each of us has our own way facing our emotions, particularly those that are deemed better off forgotten and erased. Perhaps this is because of the human need to always be at a safety zone, where nothing can be harmful for the person, regardless if these are physical dangers, psychological and mental, or even emotional in nature. As such, this human tendency to escape from emotional and psychological burden is very apparent in the 1980 film, Ordinary People, which was directed by Robert Redford and starred Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, and Timothy Hutton, among others. This is especially true on the characters of Beth Jarrett and her son, Conrad Jarrett, due to the former’s blaming the latter on the death of Beth’s teenaged son, Buck. Specifically, the conflict seems to be on Beth’s refusal to accept her younger son’s death and Conrad’s struggles to maintain psychological balance for being blamed by his mother for Buck’s death. In all of these, what can be ascertained is that feelings or emotions play an integral role in the human pursuit to justify his or her behaviors as being constructive, the ends-result of which depends highly on the person’s ability to face problems.
Conrad seems to result to blocking his emotions in order to deal with the pain of being blamed by his own mother for the death of his younger brother, Buck. Here, what can be observed is Conrad’s deliberate attempt to refuse to feel any kind of emotions, since this will only increase his guilt or self-blame. In this respect, it may be true that while blocking his emotions is Conrad’s way of temporarily blocking his guilt feelings, his suicide attempt had been his ultimate expression of trying to escape the problem situation. However, it must be noted that since the suicide has only been attempted one, it follows that Conrad had eventually chosen to face his conflict aggressively and opting not to result to escapism. This sentiment is especially observable in the part where Conrad explains his feelings toward the suicide of his good friend, Karen. Here, he confides to his psychologist that, “I feel bad about this! I feel really, really bad about this! Just let me feel bad about this!” (Ordinary People 1:21:27). This implies a healthy or positive attitude on dealing with problems since Conrad openly states a desire to face the sad emotion caused by his friend’s suicide, than to simply run away from the problem.
In this regard, it must be noted that Barbara Fredrickson, in her article for American Psychological Association, advocates the same approach through the theory of undoing hypothesis when she states, “positive emotions might correct or undo the after effect of negative emotions” (Fredrickson, 2001, p. 223). As such, this theory which can be correlated to Conrad’s actions as depicted in the previous paragraph, stresses that Conrad is correct in opting to intentionally ‘feel’ the pain of losing a friend, than to escape it by other mean, such as through liquor, women, or even by committing suicide. Hence, this proves that the act of feeling is ultimately beneficial for Conrad, despite of the level of difficulty in facing-up to his emotions by feeling the pain of losing a close friend.
On the other hand, the manner that Conrad’s mother, Beth, deals with her problems is observably self-destructive. For one, she seems to result to escapism in many occasions just to ensure that she stays at a ‘safe zone’, so to speak. This is evident in one of the scenes where Calvin confronts her for hating their son, Conrad, where she says, “Hate him! How could I hate him? Mothers don’t hate their sons! God I don’t know what everyone wants from me anymore!” (Ordinary People 1:33:16). This statement is especially significant given that accord to Fredrickson, “Fearis linked with the urge to escape, anger with the urge to attack, disgust with the urge to expel” (Fredrickson, 2001, p. 219). In light of this explanation, it seems observable that all of these negative traits—fear, anger and disgust—are all present in Beth’s aforementioned emotional outburst, and that this has been proven in the film as destructive compared with Conrad’s way of dealing with problems.
Perhaps a solid proof that Beth’s harmful way of dealing with problems, by escaping and not facing-up to the problem itself, is best seen in her eventual decision at the end of the film to simply leave her own family than to confront her emotions. More so, it seems that Beth’s belief that she has tried to overcome the differences between her and Conrad is inaccurate, given that it was she who always seem to avoid any conversation that deals with her true emotions. Such can be evidenced in the part where she states, “”Buck never would have been the hospital” (Ordinary People 58:40), which implies not only that Beth does not want to speak to Conrad about Buck, but that she may love Buck only for what he represents, and not the actual person of who Buck was. Hence, it may be true that Beth’ decision to leave her family is because of her incapability to handle problems, thus showing signs of psychological disorder, and not because of factual dire problematic situations.
True, we have our own way of handling problems yet the success of this endeavor depends individually on every person’s capability to handle reality, regardless of the magnitude of sorrow involved. Such is the case of Conrad and Beth, whereby the former has displayed constructive behavior despite of initial failures, while the latter eventually loses her sense of reality by blaming others for her own shortcomings. In all of these, what can be ascertained is that emotional maturity, regardless of a person’s age, is very vital in maximizing the chances of recovery from problematic situations, as what has been proven by Conrad’s success and Beth’s failure to reconcile Buck’s untimely death with their respective lives. [997 Words]
Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. American Psychological Association, 56(3), 218-226.
Schwary, R. (Producer), & Redford, R. (Director). (1980). Ordinary People [Motion Picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.