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Like Father and Son, from Chaplin to the Beginners
Posted May 17, 2011 to photo album "Like Father and Son, from Chaplin to the Beginners"
Mike Mills poignant portrait of a father and son relationship inspired us to look back at how films from Chaplin to Beginners have handled this paternal subject.
Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
In some ways, Kramer Vs. Kramer is a modern––and much more emotionally complex––take on the story first presented in The Kid. Adapted from the novel by Avery Corman, Robert Benton's film centers on the custody battle between divorcing parents Ted (Dustin Hoffman) and Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep) over their young son, Billy (Justin Henry). The film begins with workaholic ad exec Ted learning that Joanna is leaving him to “find herself” on the same day he lands a big account. Ted is left to look after Billy, however things initially do not go smoothly: Billy misses his mother, and Ted, who is used to spending most of his time at the office, has to reduce his workload in order to meet the demands of fatherhood. Over time, however, the two become close, and so when later Joanna reappears and asks for Billy back, Ted refuses. Kramer Vs. Kramer was a huge critical and financial success and, moreover, the film's moving depiction of Ted and Billy's relationship lead to a shift in opinion on paternal custody. The movie dominated the 1979 Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Hoffman) and Best Supporting Actress (Streep). When Dustin Hoffman accepted his Oscar, he joked, “I want to thank divorce,” however, there was great poignancy in his comment. Hoffman had split from his first wife, Anne Byrne, prior to shooting, and so there was a powerful resonance for him in the role of Ted Kramer. Byrne had custody of their two daughters, Jennifer and Karina, but he made efforts to spend as much time with them as he could. “You kid yourself if you think being separated does not have a traumatic effect on children,” he told an interviewer at the time. “They are going to feel that it is somehow expected that they favor one parent over the other, and that causes conflict.” Hoffman was extremely emotionally invested in the film and was such an active contributor that writer-director Robert Benton even offered to share his screenwriting credit with Hoffman. A year after Kramer Vs. Kramer was released Hoffman married Lisa Gottsegen; the couple has four kids, including two sons, and remains happily married.