Last night I caught the tail-end of an excellent 1980 movie, Ordinary People.
I’m always reminded of mum whenever I see it mentioned. She liked the movie, and, one way or another, it seemed to crop up in our conversation regularly. Even then I wonder if she saw something of me in the movie, and maybe something of her. That said, she was always a sucker for sensitive movie.
I was a contemporary of the character played by Timothy Hutton when it came out. Different sides of the world, different circumstances, but I was the same age at the same time, and living probably not so differently. My parents were middle class on an upward arc, and even the mother, the character played so well by Mary Tyler Moore, looked pretty much as my mum did – attractive, well-tailored, perhaps a little bit glamorous, and with the same hair style that mum did about the same time (obviously in vogue). There’s even a passing resemblance between the two, though the characters were very different.
This is a sensitive, highly intelligent film, filled with excellent, and sometimes heartbreaking performances. Donald Sutherland as the father was wonderful. Robert Redford was the director, and I think he won the Oscar for best direction did he not?
As soon as I switched over to it I felt drawn into the movie. It reminded me of mum, and that prompted a lot of forgotten memories, which is not unusual. I felt for the characters too. My sympathy was pricked. Though it is just a movie I felt my compassion roused knowing that the world is full of fractured relationships, and difficult situations. I understood the pain and hurt of Timothy Hutton, and even some of the confusion.
I was the same age then. What was I like? My hair was similar. I was tall and angular, like he was. Was I troubled? Sometimes. I remember getting into a fight with my dad at about that time and going to school with a bruised eye. I made the excuse that I’d been struck by a cricket ball. I was not cowed by that, nor did I feel bitter – I was no shrinking violet, and would have roused his ire with my rebelliousness. Not that it excuses it.
I felt some kinship with the Connie character. What was it? It tugged at me. I recalled how my mother would always describe me as sensitive. The way she described it it was like one of the best things you could be. I was too, and I think I understood it watching the movie. I remembered what it was like to be that age. With a smile I rued that time was passed, not to come again. The smile soon left me though. There came a moment when it all hit me and I felt myself watching the action on the movie and tearing up.
It seems to me that often your body acts independently of your mind in these matters. That’s an illusion. The real breakdown is not between body and mind, but rather between mind and feeling. I felt things my mind had yet to properly interpret, but which my body acted on: tears came into my eyes.
Though I felt it it took some time before I understood what I felt. I sat there watching still, my eyes dry a moment after they had glistened, trying to understand what had happened. There was some superficial remorse about mum, and all of that. Mostly it was about me though.
It’s only recently that I’ve come to regard my relationship with my father as a lost opportunity. Not once in many years did I ever consider that our relationship could have been different to what it was. There was never a time I was completely satisfied by it, but then nor did I ever experience regret. That changed with the events leading up to Christmas, and has forever now. For the record I am back speaking to Dad, but our relationship no longer has the pretence of father and son. We speak as two men, and I prefer that.
It might have been different though, and that’s what I’ve come to so keenly understand these last 8 months. As I never did before I found myself looking at great fathers and wishing I’d had one of them. I can almost feel the sense of loss that I didn’t – and wonder how different I might have grown up to be if I did. It’s sad to me, but not something I dwell on. But then I see lovely father’s like Donald Sutherland in this movie and wish I’d had that love and support. Or even to have felt it. To be clear, I didn’t feel it’s absence – I never considered that. I just never experienced its warmth.
This knowledge has recast some things I know about my mum. She was always telling me how hard I had it. I was always denying it. She came to tell me tales I couldn’t credit, and still can’t, but what I do understand is that as a mother she had a very different perspective to what I did. Switch the parents around in this movie, and perhaps there is some inkling of how I lived then.
And then I look at Conrad, the Timothy Hutton character, and what I feel is my own lost innocence. That’s a cliche of a word. I don’t know that I was innocent. I know I was sensitive. I think I am still. But what I’ve lost is the life to be sensitive. That’s why tears came to my eyes. I felt denied something really good about myself by the circumstances I find myself in. I’m so tough and hard these days. I’m a bruiser, and yeah, sure, there’s reason for that – but how I wish I could be so innocently sensitive as I was then. Anyone can be hard, just about; to be sensitive is a gift, as my mum always said.
In all of that I realised how alone I am. Who will understand this? Who could I talk to about such things? To the world today I’m a bruiser because that’s my outward appearance. There is little sign of what is inside me. And nowhere to be that person in the current life I have. I can’t even pick up the phone, as I would before, and have a chat to mum for half an hour – “guess what I just watched?” She would understand completely.