Kramer vs. Kramer: Battle of Choosing What You Want vs. Knowing What is Right

My wife used to always say to me why can’t a woman have the same ambitions as a man, I think you’re right and maybe I learned that much. But by the same token what law is it that says a woman is a better parent simply by virtue of her sex? You know a lot of times, think about it. What is it that makes somebody a good parent? You know, it has to do with constancy, it has to with patience, It has to do with listening to them. It has to do with pretending to listen to them when you can’t even listen any more. And it has to do with love, like she was saying. And I don’t know where it is written that says a woman has a corner on that market. That a man has any less of those emotions than a woman does? “

—Ted Kramer, Kramer vs. Kramer

Because of my father’s directive, I watched Kramer vs. Kramer this lazy holiday afternoon. He recommended that film after one breakfast morning at my cousins’ coffee shop, The Freedom of Espresso, while my siblings and I are having our favorite French toasts. I had a copy the film obtained the next day but since I was so busy in school, I did not have time to watch it. Thank God for making Andres Bonifacio’s birthday today.

The film focuses on a couple, Ted and Joanna, and their son, Billy. They were married for eight years until all of the sudden, Joanna bid Ted goodbye. She told her how unhappy she was with the marriage and she’s leaving Billy under his care. Ted had an exceptionally hard time dealing with the abrupt leaving of his wife especially now that his most awaited break is already on his reach. However, Ted found out that more than the difficulty of his job is the difficulty of being a single parent to his son. There are several things that he cannot do for Billy like whipping up his favorite French toast. But eventually the father and son overcame their differences and the two became extremely close. Ted, however, lost focus on his work. That’s the price he paid for making his son a priority over everything else.

Eighteen months later, he received a call from Joanna asking him to meet her. She did not want for her to return as his wife but she did come back to be Billy’s mommy again. And thus the ugly custody court battle began.

I do not want to give many details in the story or who would win in the end. It’s best if one watches the film himself and be the judge on who really deserves Billy’s custody. It’s interesting to know that both Ted and Joanna have their own fault. Ted, on his want to give his family a better life, worked himself to death to have that position in the advertising company. However, in doing so, he forgot to be a husband and a father for five years. On the other hand, Joanna tried to keep up with the life of being a housewife and a mother faithfully all those years. Nevertheless, she felt as if she is the saddest woman in the world because she felt no personal growth in doing those jobs that’s why she decided to abandon both her husband and son for eighteen month. This is something that the court would frown on because it appears that she is not fit to be a mother to Billy anymore.

The plot of the story may be simple yet more than the tear jerking scenes between Billy and his parents; it introduced the modernization of family roles that a mother and father should take. I believe that a husband cannot just confine his wife at home and doing all the chores and counting all responsibilities in raising their children. He is also capable of doing that. A wife also remembers that she is a woman before becoming his spouse. Therefore, she also has personal aspirations that she wants to accomplish other than family life. She wants to be a career woman too. Unfortunately (most especially here on Asia), even after thirty-two years since the release of this film, many husbands still wants to work solely as the breadwinner and let their wives quit their job to be a full-time wife and mother. People also frown down on men raising children on their own. It is perceived that men doing this job will make one lose his “manliness” or whatever society calls that. The movie’s objective is simple: it is to show the viewers that there is no exact and exclusive husband’s role or wife’s role in family relationships. Both must make way for the growth of the family without compromising the dreams and ambitions of another.

Nonetheless, if I would make some amendments in the movie, I would love to bring Billy to the court and make him choose who between Ted and Joanna. Making a child choose would be very heartbreaking, especially to the un-chosen parent. However, what if he didn’t want to choose? What if Billy answered that he wanted to be with both of them and return to their family of three that they had for years. I think the fault of the movie lies on the issue that they did not tackle and that is whether Ted and Joanna could work out their marriage again. I mean, they now understood where their problem is coming from. In the process of the custody battle, they had the chance of speaking in front of the court and each other what made them unhappy or dissatisfied with their marriage. Now that you know the problem, wouldn’t it be easier to talk over the solution? The story did not state what ground did they use in severing their marriage but I hypothesize that it is “irreconcilable differences” as there are no other grounds that I see fitting for their marriage. I do not understand why something is irreconcilable if they did not put effort to reconcile it. The movie would have ended happier had the movie shown that Ted and Joanna tried saving their marriage, which they never did.

Personally, I had issues with this movie. I now have doubts on fulfilling my dream as a litigator specialized in family court cases. I mean it breaks my heart seeing how people bid farewell to their ever after in court after swearing that they would be with each other until death do them apart. Nevertheless, the pain in the former scenario is nothing compared seeing children part with their parents who they also want to live and grow with. Defending the client’s best interest would be a piece of cake but how about the best interest of the child? Who would protect it? Someday, could I really have the heart and guts to witness those scenarios all the time?

But, whatever. You must watch the film. Dustin Hoffman who played Ted and Justin Henry were outstanding father-son tandem on this movie. However, though she have limited scenes, you must really watch out for Meryl Streep as Joanna. Without saying anything, your heart has been carried by the pure emotions of her eyes. Priceless, I tell you.

By the way, for my next assignment, Daddy wants me to watch Al Pacino’s “…and Justice for All.”

"We built a life together. We wake up and have breakfast and I take him to school and then I pick him up after school and we have dinner together and...I read him a bedtime story...I'm not always the perfect father...but I'm there. I'm there." ---Ted Kramer talks about Billy, defending himself in court. One of the dialogues that made me cry.
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