Thursday, 23 March 2023

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)


Kramer mod Kramer

I have a real problem with divorce dramas. Maybe it has to do with that I am a divorce child myself. Maybe it is because children get hurt. Or maybe it is simply the intense and difficult emotions that always surround divorces. No matter how you look at it, there is no happy end to divorces involving children. All this makes it very difficult for me to watch a movie like “Kramer vs. Kramer”. It presses very uncomfortable buttons for me, and I dread to watch it. Frankly, I have more stomach for gory slasher movies than divorce movies.

Yet, “Kramer vs. Kramer” is by all accounts an excellent movie, and I am happy I forced myself to watch it.

Ted and Joanna Kramer (Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep) are married with a six year old son, Billy (Justin Henry). They live in an apartment in New York where he works in advertising, and she is at home. One evening when Ted returns from work, Joanna announces that she is leaving and immediately does so. No warning, no explanation and Ted is alone with Billy.

Ted is married to his job and while that may be a contributing factor to Joanna leaving, it also makes for a hard landing, having to take care of the child. Ted quickly realizes that he has to reprioritize his life to being first a father and secondly an account manager in advertising. Unfortunately, Ted’s boss is a prick who refuses to allow Ted to have a family life and ultimately he is laid off.

15 months later Joanna is back and now she wants Billy. This ends in the famous court scenes where all Ted’s good arguments come to nothing because Joanna is Billy’s mother.

This is a movie that kept making me upset. I was upset with Ted for not listening. He talks a lot, but only when he gets to be alone with Billy does he learn to listen. I was upset with Joanna, not so much for walking out on husband and son, but for being selfish enough to first give up on her son and then wanting him back. Not for her son’s sake but for her own. I was very upset with Ted’s employer for being so insensitive to Ted’s family issues. Maybe it is being at forty years distance where companies now do allow people to balance work and private life, where people can go on reduced time if they need to and understand that if children are sick, parents may need to be home with them. Many companies even allowed work from home in such cases before the pandemic and the question is not if but how many days you can be home with your sick child at full pay. And it does not matter if you are the father or the mother. I was upset with a court system that forces people to give up custody if they cannot afford the lawyers and I was upset with the mother’s automatic right to custody. But most of all it was upsetting to watch the impact on the child. A six- or seven-year-old child does not understand why mum and dad are not together. He does not understand why he has to leave home to live with the other parent and it upsets me when children becomes the victims of their parents selfish wants.

Apparently this movies caused quite a stir and there are clearly many opinions on what is right and what is wrong in custody cases. In the extra material I learned that “Kramer vs. Kramer” is even referred to as a legal precedent in custody cases. Maybe it is biased because the scriptwriters were men and included Hoffman who himself was going through a divorce at the time, but it does drive a strong case.

Of course the acting is phenomenal across the board and Justin Henry may be the best child actor I ever saw. This is very emotional acting on all sides and they went for quite a lot of improvisation to make it appear as natural as possible and man it works.

“Kramer vs. Kramer” won five Academy Awards, including Best picture and four additional nominations. Every one of them were deserved.



  1. I liked this up until the last few moments. There's no way in hell the Meryl Streep character actually acts like that. It ruined the entire movie for me.

    1. I was thinking exactly the same thing. There is no way you are going to fight this tooth and nail in court and then give up when you have won. I simply ignored the ending.