During much of western history, “til death do us part” was a non-negotiable fact.
Now, it is little more than a cool-sounding slogan that we say because it’s in the wedding script.
We are supposed to view the lack of respect for marriage vows and the plague of broken homes as a terrible development. But it’s not that simple.
The bad thing about divorce culture is that it has led to the dissolution of the lower middle class. In 1970, there was a solid chance that a working-class child was growing up in a stable family with enough money to get by because both parents were contributing to the household. Today, that same child only resides with one parent and lives in a tenuous world of Dollar Stores and overdraft fees.
On the other hand, I think it’s fair to say that physical abuse within families has been reduced during the past half century. That wonderful change is largely due to the fact that angry, frustrated men can leave before things get violent – or be kicked to the curb by their brave spouses.
I don’t think divorce culture is necessarily a bad thing. I’ve known a lot of divorced people. Most of them remarried. And most are happier than during their first marriage. Including me.
“Kramer vs. Kramer” is not what I was expecting. Writer/director Robert Benton has given us a loving, passionate pro-divorce movie.
When we meet Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman), his values are all out of whack. He thinks only of his career. He is a copywriter on Madison Ave. and he has just been put in charge of a huge account.
Ted comes home – late as always – to tell his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) the good news. She tells him that she is leaving immediately and forever.
Suddenly, Ted is trying to be Don Draper and Mr. Mom to his five-year-old son Billy at the same time. And it’s not possible.
Robert Benton authentically shows us the experience of suddenly being single. Ted has sleepless nights and difficulty doing household tasks that Joanna used to do. Instead of looking in the mirror, he blames Joanna’s friend who left her husband the year before.
The first months are brutal and painful to watch. Ted and his son are angry and they take it out on each other.
But slowly and organically, Ted and Billy bond. Dustin Hoffman does a fantastic job of showing us a man who stops prioritizing work and starts prioritizing parenting without ever having to tell us.
“Kramer vs. Kramer” is not a He Said/She Said courtroom drama. It is an ode to fatherhood. And that’s just what we need right now. We live in a society that values motherhood much more than fatherhood, and a lot of people are suffering due to this strange misconception.
I am not the ideal audience for this movie. When someone I know is having a baby, all I can think is how bad I feel for them. They will be dealing with loud, expensive human children instead of quiet, wonderful cats. However, Ted and Billy won me over with their sweetness and love.
“Kramer vs. Kramer” won Best Picture in 1979. Some people might view this as a low point in Academy history when they were obsessed with the First World problems of white men like them. But the film actually does deserve the honor. “Kramer vs. Kramer” beat out “Apocalypse Now.” Oscar got it right; this little movie about a happy divorce is first rate and pretty important.
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