The film "Kramer vs. Kramer", directed by Robert Benton, is based on the novel by Avery Corman and represents one of the best films of 1979. Generally speaking, this film has already become classic and one of the most interesting films created in Hollywood. This film seems to be different from others created in Hollywood though the main theme of “Kramer Vs. Kramer” is not innovative and the problems that the film raises may be found in many others but what makes this film different from all others is the angle which the audience view them from.
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Unlike other films about problems existing within families between husbands and wives, between parents and their children, and particularly the problem of divorce and suffering of children, “Kramer Vs. Kramer” is focused not only child’s perception of divorce and all its negative consequences but what is not less important it provokes to think about parents and their problems engendered by the divorce. At the same time, the problematic of the film may be perceived on the higher level, on the level of contemporary relations within our society and our families which often raise the problem of choice, the choice between work and family, between personal happiness and happiness of the partner, finally, the choice between one of the parents that seems to be the most dramatic, particularly for a child.
So, what can be said about “Kramer Vs. Kramer”? First of all, this film depicts if not typical than quite an ordinary family with problems which are true to life and the situation is quite realistic. Actually, this film is an attempt to provoke discussion about problems of contemporary families and society at large. What we see in Kramer’s family is a traditional, I would even say a bit stereotyped, American family in which the farther, Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman), is a workaholic for whom his job is undoubtedly on the first place while his own family plays a secondary role. The wife and mother, Joanna Kramer (Maryl Streep), is rather a housewife practically deprived of her own interests dedicating her time to her family that finally leads to breakdown. The child, Billy Kramer (Justin Henry), who obviously lacks communication with his father and in the meantime, he is bringing up by the mother who is deprived, depressed and practically loosing her control over her life and finding the only way out in the divorce. On analyzing such a situation, we understand that creators of the film intended to demonstrate a gender shift in relations within families because it is obvious that Ted is a typical male living for work while his wife wants to change her life and she cannot bear such a situation and she leaves her husband and child. By the way the latter fact is quite unusual and probably shocking for some part of American society at the late 70s because traditionally females were perceived as mothers caring about their children and their families and such act of Joanna demonstrates that she is ready to break such stereotypes and lead the life she wants. And the fact that Joanna wins custody after court trial is probably the best evidence of such public stereotypes which were hyperbolized in the court and found its expression in such an outcome of the trial.
As for her husband, Ted Kramer, we observe the contrary process. He used to be a workaholic but, being abandoned by his wife, he has to change his lifestyle and his view on life. It is quite a remarkable fact that “taking his son to school on the first day after his wife has left him, he asks: “What grade are you in?” (Ebert 1992:113). Probably it is the most remarkable but not the only fact proving that he was far from his family. It seems that he does not even fully realize that his wife has decided to leave him when she talks to him about it, he does not simply believe it. But after it he has to start practically a new life and not very successfully from the point of view of Ted-before-divorce. Now it is another Ted Kramer. He takes care about his son, he discovers his son for himself, they build new real relations as father and son though such changes resulted in the firing of Ted but still he has lost his job but found his son. Thus, from a workaholic who did not really know his child, Ted transforms into a good parent which Joanna used to be. On watching this film we can’t keep from sympathizing this caring farther. Probably this transformation helps us to understand what actually a parent should be.
Naturally, one may compare Ted and Joanna and say that it was heartless to leave the only child, Bill, to a person like Ted but it is necessary to realize that Joanna was practically the only parent for Billy till the moment she left the family. Thus, Joanna, before the divorce, and Ted, shortly after it, may be called good parents who really love their child, build relations with him and who are probably the closest people for the child. But the problem is that they fail to unite it in terms of time. For Ted it was too late to start new relations with his son because the family has been already ruined, while for Joanna the divorce was the only possible way to change her life, as well as the life of her child and ex-husband. If they succeeded to become good parents not before or after the divorce but in one and the same time obviously there would be no divorce at all.
Anyway, as it has already been mentioned Joanna Kramer wins custody but soon she decides to give custody of Billy back to Ted. And again such act breaks all stereotypes about female’s role in American society but at the same time we agree with such decision because Joanna is not anymore that good mother she used to be while Ted, on the contrary, has transformed in a good father.
Probably, it is the best solution in such circumstances but not ideal one because Bill suffers a lot. Emotionally, the divorce is a great stress for him as for any other child and his parents should take care about their child first of all and find out another solution but unfortunately reuniting of the family would look like a fancied happy end of the story far from real life and the film would lose its realism as it has partially did after the decision of Joanna to give the custody back to Ted. But anyway, we should realize that for a child both parents are extremely important and they are responsible for emotional well-being of their child and certainly Bill practically looses his mother soon after he regained his father, who, in his turn, has been lost all the time before the divorce. It is obvious that for a child treats only those as parents who take care about him and who are really close to him and are able to understand his feelings and sufferings. Now it seems that it would be more logical to give custody to Ted because it was he who cared about Billy but such outcome was hardly possible in late 70s even nowadays no one can guarantee that in such a situation custody would be given to a parent like Ted but still now his chances would be higher.
So, what can we learn from this film “Kramer Vs. Kramer”? Firstly, it is the idea that it is never too late to change our life and it is never too late to become a good parent. It is also important to understand what consequences the divorce may have for a child and his parents and how difficult it is for all of them to separate the family and leave a child with one of the parents. At the same time the film creates a prototype of a good parent but at the same time underlines that normally a child need both parents not only one, even if he is ideal. —————————————————————————–
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