Ordinary People

It is a well-known fact that communication is vital for a healthy family well-being as well as for any relationships. The film Ordinary People demonstrates the significance of interpersonal communication by portraying a disintegrating family. The Jarrett’s family falls apart over time because of lack of sincere interpersonal communication. The interpersonal communication is communication between an individual and others, and it depends heavily on nonverbal communication, perception, and emotions. These three components can improve or deteriorate interpersonal relationship and communication. This essay evaluates the interpersonal communication in the film Ordinary People and explores how these three concepts affect the relationship of the main characters.

First, emotions refer to the feelings, such as love, hate, disgusts, guilty among others, that people experience under different circumstances. The plot revolves around intense emotions caused by tragic events. The film begins as the family is trying to cope with the untimely death of their oldest son, Buck. The loss of a teenage child and brother is an immensely devastating event for the family that triggers a flood of emotions. Buck dies in a boating accident while Conrad survives it. This incident leads to Conrad feeling the survivor’s guilt. He blames himself for the death of his brother and slips into post-traumatic depression. Conrad is not the only one struggling with emotions. The father, Calvin, is overwhelmed by grief and state of his surviving son while the mother, Beth, is coping by acting as if she is not grieving. By illustrating such an emotion-saturated environment, the film shows how feelings affect and are affected by interpersonal communication.


There are short time emotions such as joy and sadness, and there are other more lasting, such as grief, guilt, and love. The feeling of guilt pushes Conrad to seclusions and contributes to his disability to communicate verbally. The film begins at a time when Conrad is out of four months hospitalization after a suicide attempt. The grief, guilt, and sadness cause Conrad to stay expressionless. Only those close to him can understand his nonverbal language. Apart from this, Calvin’s emotions and love towards his surviving son enable him to help Conrad to feel well even under the challenging circumstances. Beth conceals her emotions, but they are revealed in her behavior towards her son and husband. She loved Buck more than Conrad, and because of Conrad’s suicide attempt, she despises him. Its manifests when she pretends to be close to Conrad only to behave coldly with him. Regardless of Beth’s efforts to hide emotions, they are visible and hinder interpersonal communication with the family. Emotions can create a certain barrier in the way of communication, but with proper emotions management, they become vehicles of communication.

Second, the film presents the effect of perception on the quality of the interpersonal communication as well as its connection with emotions and nonverbal communication. Perception refers to the impression one gets from others. This concept becomes conspicuous in the character of Beth as she is completely incapable of relating to her son. Beth is unable even to communicate with her son because of the perception she retains. According to Beth, Conrad is irresponsible and inferior to Buck. Beth’s perception of her younger son affects her emotions by triggering hatred and contempt. She considers him a shame and unimportant to the family. These emotions are evident in her nonverbal communication, specifically when she fails to visit him in the hospital and resolutely insists on acting a happy family regardless of the psychiatric problem of Conrad. Furthermore, Beth cannot behave well with him because her perception makes her reaction unconsciously negative every time she tries to get closer to him. Her cold attitude is the consequence of her negative perception of him. 

The concept of perception also obvious in the character of Conrad who discloses to his psychiatrists on how he feels about his mother. Conrad tells that his mother hates him. Thus, he cannot relate with her. His view about Beth is that of an uncaring parent who is concerned with the outsiders’ view of a good family while the family is ailing. As a result, he cannot hold a conversation with her and always acts with indifference when around her. The film also shows perception in Calvin’s conduct towards his son. According to Calvin, Conrad is a teenage son who needs help, and as a result, he always offers support and love. Perception determines individuals’ behavior and can strain or facilitate communication, either verbal or nonverbal. 

Lastly, the film presents the concept of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication is the expression of one’s ideas, thoughts, or feelings without the use of words. Nonverbal communication relies on the body language such as facial expressions, intonation, gestures among others. Nonverbal communication helps Conrad to start expressing his feelings, but it does not provide effective communication or relief for him. Initially, Conrad cannot express himself through communication because emotions tear him apart. After sessions with his psychiatrist, Dr. Berger, Conrad learns how to use nonverbal communication to express his ideas and thoughts. It gives him relief to some extent; he even starts dating a girl from his school. However, he is unable to express what he feels about his mother, and it takes a heavy toll on him. In an outburst of anger, he fights with a schoolmate, what is a nonverbal expression of his emotions and instability. Conrad uses nonverbal means when his mother asks him to act happy and overshadow his grief. His facial expressions suggest indifference. He even confronts her several times when she unsuccessfully tries to communicate with him. Beth, in turn, unconsciously and consciously uses nonverbal communication extensively. When she fails to visit Conrad in the hospital, it reveals a nonverbal communication through behavior. It is her conscious and intentional nonverbal communication that is aimed to let Conrad know that she is not happy about him and disappointed with what he did. Beth behaves coldly towards Conrad even though she attempts to be closer to him as she pursues her happy family appearance. The cold reaction to Conrad is unconscious and serves as an expression of her perceptions about and emotions towards him.

Beth’s decision to desert the family is a nonverbal response to Calvin’s confrontation. By deserting them, Beth tells them without words that she neither can stand them nor does she approve of their lifestyle. Calvin also uses nonverbal clues mostly when he tries to intervene between Beth and Conrad. Initially, he expresses surprise at how Beth treats Conrad which changes to disapproval and defense for the son. He pats Conrad to console him and gives Beth disapproving facial expressions. The nonverbal communication in this film is apparent mostly through the way characters treat each other and their reactions to what the others do.

Interestingly, it is not possible to consider these three concepts that are independent of each other. It is apparent in the essay that there is certain overlap or flow the concepts. The impression a person gets about another individual may be a result of how one interprets their nonverbal communication. For example, Conrad has the impression that his mother hates him. This perception comes from the way he interprets his mother’s actions and nonverbal communication. In its turn, perception influences emotions or determines them. For example, Beth despises her son because she perceives him as average or as a failure compared to Buck. Furthermore, emotions contribute to the nonverbal communication. Beth behaves coldly towards her son as an expression of her emotions and perception towards him. Also, Conrad behaves with indifference towards Beth as an expression of his perception of her and his emotions. One trait influences another or manifests in another one with perception overshadowing the other two. In such situations, nonverbal communication acts as an outlet for perception and emotions. Emotions are as a conjunctive but, at the same time, an independent element. As described, there is an interconnection between the three concepts. They operate as parts of the whole although they are independent in some way.

In conclusion, the film Ordinary People explores interpersonal and family communication through the concepts of emotions, perception, and nonverbal communication. The beginning of the film provides an opportunity of observe many complex emotions. The constrained communication between the mother and son demonstrates the examples of nonverbal communications, the manifestation of perception, and the interconnection between the three concepts. Through the troubled mind and post-traumatic condition of Conrad, the film portrays the effects of overwhelming emotions on communication. They can facilitate or cripple communication as it is apparent in the film. The picture also reveals how differently individuals may react to the same emotions and environments, acquire varying perceptions, and manifest nonverbal communication. There are complicated relationships between emotions, perception, and nonverbal communication. These concepts are heavily dependent on each other. Each concept has a positive and a negative effect on an individual, communication, and the other two concepts all at once.

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