This film is significant for many reasons. It’s Dustin Hoffman’s first Oscar, it made Meryl Streep a star and it was released the year I was born (joke). Its significance lies in the fact that it was the first time Hollywood tackled divorce head-on in a mainstream movie.
The story is one we’ve heard from our friends, our lovers, our uncles, grandparents or parents. This film takes us into the classic story of divorce. He said, she said, custody, lawyers, property, finances, friends choosing sides and, more importantly, the pain it leaves in its wake. Dustin Hoffman is quoted as saying “there are three things no one can explain to you: the death of a parent, having a child or getting divorced.” In today’s world the divorce statistics are very high, but in the late ‘70s things were different, and this bottom-line-truth movie about the D-word was controversial.
Even just one generation back to my father, he was told you don’t get divorced. This very review is tough to write and may be tough to read, and the film is tough to watch. However, we must always examine ourselves as humans. Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) comes home from work and his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) leaves him without notice. Adding to this terrible news, young son Billy is caught in the middle. Billy, played by Justin Henry, was nominated at age 8 for a best supporting actor Oscar in this movie.
Dustin Hoffman sat down with the writers of this film and they locked themselves in a New York hotel room, tirelessly going over the authenticity of the subject. Hoffman himself was in the middle of a divorce while shooting this movie, and it shows on screen. It was said by Hoffman that off screen he treated Meryl Streep as if she was his real-life ex; so the anger on screen is real.
More importantly, at the center of this movie is the fact that there is more then one side to the story. It is also about tradition and the power of love. As time passes our social traditions have changed with couples being together five to 20 years and never getting married. However, nothing on this planet can change or beat love. Love take a new form, but love stands, or the business of divorce (or in current times split-ups) would not hurt so much.
This movie is one to see. I say this because we have all had to face a situation like this or the consequences that the D-word gives people for their entire life. What the writer/director gives us in Kramer vs. Kramer is the chance to not choose sides; to not harbor resentment, but to take one step back and heal; to learn from some situations instead of carrying it on.
I know many people who have gone through a divorce as children and as divorcees, and it’s not easy on anyone. This film helps do the one thing all humans must do: accept we’re all the same. We all want love and don’t want to suffer. If you know nothing about divorce or were never effected by one, then this movie is truthful entertainment. If the D-word has plagued you or your life, grab this DVD and use it as a tool for peace.
Free screening of this film Wednesday at Lihu‘e Public Library, at 6:30 p.m.
• Paul Booth, of Lihu‘e, is a KCC graduate, film producer and consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com.