Conrad’s new therapist, Dr. Berger, helps him discover that his self-destructive actions could be due to his misinterpretations of the life-changing event. This realization is triggered when Conrad’s friend from the psychiatric hospital commits suicide after seeming fine. Dr. Berger astutely points out that she wasn’t fine and in the same way he helps Conrad see that the boating accident was not his fault.
It was a misinterpretation of who really let go that fatal day. Beth’s blatant favoritism of her first born son and subsequent need to blame someone led to Conrad’s unquestioning acceptance of the implications from her misguided selfishness in her parental role. He was blinded from seeing the truth: that he held on and his brother let go.
Calvin’s eyes are opened and the dynamic of the triangle and his wife's rejecting their son. Beth has an opportunity to change but can't. Her defenses crumble when a wave of unresolved emotions washes over her, exposing the unrealistic perception of control and the fallacy of her denial. She runs revealing her true persona as the weakest leaving an enlightened duo to heal the remaining family dynamic. Beth’s suppressed emotions imprisoned her family. Facing the truth behind the emotions set them all free.
"I'm so scared. I'm scared." "Feelings are scary. And sometimes they're painful.
And if you can't feel pain you won't feel anything else either."
- Alvin Sargent, Screenwriter
A major breakthrough occurs with a single change in thinking. An emotional healing emerges releasing the devastating guilt allowing an entire reconfiguration of Conrad’s emotional state.
After Conrad’s therapeutic revelation, he attempts to change his IP role to reestablish a healthy family dynamic. However, when he reaches out she rejects him again, illustrating her fear of her own emotions and her inability to change. Denying pain keeps the pain going. Only facing it can create change and healing, but its hard.
The triangle is a living, breathing interpersonal dynamic that changes day-by-day as family members try to cope with something they don’t understand. Appearances can be deceiving.
At first glance Beth, the emotionless narcissistic mother appears to be the rock -- adhering to her mantra of control, a symptom of a deep-seated insecurity that appears as perfectionism, an extreme need for order in the face of total chaos.
Calvin’s nurturing demeanor appears as the glue that keeps the family together, suggesting he is the strongest. In the middle lies a guilt-ridden son Conrad whose perceived weakness was illustrated by his suicide attempt. His very presence is in direct contrast to Beth’s image of her perfect family.
She chastises him for seeking therapy post hospitalization because she just wants it all to be over and to deny it ever happened. Her denial keeps the rest of the family in emotional limbo as the pain of the loss is always lying just below the surface.
Conrad's emotional outbursts with friends and Beth's confusion about how to deal with outsiders pulls the family further apart.
The Psychology of Suicide
Ordinary People (Academy Award Winner by Alvin Sargent) is a timeless story of a perfect family trying to survive an imperfect life-changing event.
The family struggles with the emotional tragedy
of losing their first-born son in a tragic boating accident and the attempted suicide of their second born son, who blames himself for it happening.
Guilt over the loss creates a wave of emotions fueling behaviors that bring out the best and
worst in the remaining family members.
Dealing with their emotions proves to be a test
of their inner strengths and weaknesses. An emotional triangle exists between the father, Calvin Jarrett, mother, Beth and surviving son, Conrad, deemed the identified patient (IP), the focus of their unresolved emotional pain.