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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Kramer vs. Kramer: Review

Although pushed into action due to unfortunate circumstances, in Kramer vs. Kramer Dustin Hoffman steps up to his responsibilities as a father and demonstrates that when it comes to children a man is just as capable as a woman of boundless love and devotion.

Families of all shapes and sizes are quite common in today’s American landscape, and even though divorce was not exactly scandalous in 1979 it was still a unique subject for the movies. Sure, it had been depicted on screen before, but never with such sympathy for the husband/father who in this case is suddenly forced to adjust to a life different from the one he had planed.

Hoffman plays a man who is blind sided by his wife (Academy Award winner Meryl Streep) when she suddenly decides to up and leave him and their small child in order to “find” herself. This was a common event for housewives of the era. Many women at the time were questioning their roles in society and wondering if there weren’t more options available to them than the ones allotted by tradition. The side effect of this self-exploration usually required the man in the woman’s life to do some soul searching of his own, and in the process usually ended up discovering the unexplored domain right inside his own home. Such is the source of drama, conflict and growth for Hoffman’s character in Kramer vs. Kramer.

Hoffman’s career minded breadwinner is realistically portrayed as a man who is understandably upset, even outraged by his wife’s actions. Frustrated and overcome, he does his best to set his complicated feelings regarding his wife aside and step up to the challenge of hands-on parenting. He may have lost a wife, but in the end he has a closer relationship with his child, and it is through their shared hardship that he truly establishes a sense of family with the little boy he hardly knew. He faces the tough challenges and basks in the rewards, such as the moment when his young offspring learns to ride a bicycle. I don’t think there’s a better, more exciting or enthralling “proud father” moment in all of cinema history.

Hoffman, of course, has difficult moments. There is a particularly memorable scene when his son wants to eat ice cream instead of what has been prepared for their meal. There is no child psychology at play here; it is a pure and simple power struggle that every parent has experienced at one time or another. Even more difficult is negotiating the waters when his child longs to see his mother. Laying down the law is one thing, but putting aside one’s own personal feelings of anger and resentment for the good of a child can be extremely challenging.

But that is fatherhood in a nutshell: stepping up when you are needed to lay down the law and stepping aside when other needs take precedent, even if that goes against your own desires. What truly matters is the welfare of the child. Kramer vs. Kramer never loses site of this, making it a family classic worth watching even by families who have never experienced the pain of divorce.

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