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Kramer vs. Kramer

January 28, 2011

651. Kramer vs. Kramer
Directed by Robert Benton
USA, 1979
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing


When his unhappy wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) leaves, high-flying advertising executive Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is left to raise his young son Billy alone. Ted struggles with his responsibilities at home and at work, while he and Billy take out the stress of the situation on each other.

After a few months, they develop a good routine and a very close bond. This bond is put in jeopardy when Joanna takes Ted to court over custody of their son.

Essential Scene:

Ted and Billy have just had an argument, ending with Billy kicking and screaming as Ted dumps him in his bedroom. After a while, Ted checks on Billy, and Billy wakes up.

Billy: Daddy?

Ted: Sssh.

Billy: Daddy?

Ted: Yeah?

Billy: I’m sorry.

Ted: I’m sorry too. [Kisses Billy on the forehead] I want you to go to sleep, because it’s really late.

Billy: [Turns on lamp] Daddy?

Ted: Now what is it?

Billy: Are you going away?

Ted: No. I’m staying right here with you. You can’t get rid of me that easy.

Billy: That’s why Mommy left, isn’t it? Because I was bad?

Ted: Is that what you think? [Billy nods, a tear rolling down his cheek] No. No, that’s not it Billy. Your Mom loves you very much and the reason she left has nothing to do with you. I don’t know if this is gonna make any sense, but I’ll try to explain it to you, okay? I think the reason why Mommy left was because for a long time now I’ve kept trying to make her be a certain kind of person. A certain kind of wife that I thought she was supposed to be. And she just wasn’t like that. She was…she just wasn’t like that. And now that I think about it, I think she tried for so long to make me happy. And when she couldn’t, she tried to talk to me about it, see. But I wasn’t listening. I was too busy, too wrapped up just thinking about myself. And I thought that anytime I was happy, she was happy. But I think underneath she was very sad. Mommy stayed here longer than she wanted too, I think, because she loves you so much. And the reason why Mommy couldn’t stay anymore was because she couldn’t stand me, Billy. She didn’t leave because of you. She left because of me.


A family drama like this could easily have turned into a schmaltz-fest littered with over-emotional argument scenes. Thankfully, Kramer vs. Kramer is much better than that. Nothing is sugarcoated or melodramatic. Though the subject matter makes it a bit of a depressing watch, the performances from Hoffman, Streep and seven-year-old Justin Henry are excellent and very realistic, which is precisely why it lingers a while after viewing.

As both sides are represented fairly, the mother and father appear both guilty and innocent at the same time. Such is the nature of some divorces. Joanna was neglected by her husband, felt depressed and trapped, but was she right to leave her child? Ted learns to be a good father, but why couldn’t he have been a good father and husband all along?

Real life is like this; we all make mistakes while behaving against our better judgment and we grow as a result. As the film develops, so do the characters; they grow before our eyes.

I wasn’t completely sure about the ending, but I won’t spoil it…

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