I can’t recall another film that nailed a moment in our culture better than Kramer vs. Kramer did back in 1979. I can remember my parents coming back from a matinee screening of that film and talking at length about how they felt about it. Mind you, divorce wasn’t (thank God) an issue in my household, but the movie really stirred things up – just as it did for so many others across the world. What kind of mother was Meryl Streep’s character to have left her husband and son like she did? What would happen to this little boy who would be brought up primarily by a dad? Is the legal system this biased against dads?
Thirty years later the veracity of this film strikes me without any depleted impact. Minus the people smoking in offices, the dated clothing and a scene having no doubt been shot from an office in one of the twin towers, not much seems to have changed from when this landmark film arrived. The struggle of work/family balance, the reasons for many-a-divorce, the bias of many judges in the courts, even the basic identity of what it means to be a man – all remain to a great extent still unchanged to this day. Yes, there have certainly been strides towards more gender equality, flexible work schedules and an increase in dads staying at home, but at the end of the day, we as dads still remain in a period of confusion, caught between the cultural ideals of what it means to be an ‘involved father’ and the realities that determine how involved we can truly be at this point.
Still, there’s hope, just as there is hope for Dustin Hoffman’s character at the end of the film. There is the possibility of change, the opportunity for things to keep getting better. The evolution is slow, yet inevitable. I can only wonder how my boys will perceive Kramer vs. Kramer when they watch it in their adult years. Hopefully, things will be improved enough for them to chuckle at not only the workers smoking in their offices but about how the role of dad was perceived back when.
(Below is an interview excerpt by Dr. Michael Kimmel on the topic)