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On Golden Pond - a Gerontological Point of View

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On Golden Pond

A Gerontological Point of View


"On Golden Pond," the 1981 Academy Award Winner for Best Movie, Best Actor (Henry Fonda), and Best Actress (Katherine Hepburn) is a great example of the multiplicity of turmoil and difficulties affecting a couple and their daughter as the parents reach the twilight of their lives.

Part of the affect of aging is done by using actors known to the audience for years. This helps the audience relate to the affect of aging by having a clear view of how the actors looked over many years in the public eye. Many members of the audience remember Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn from movies made 40 to 50 years ago, before this movie was made. They were young movie stars and sex symbols. In this movie they are older people, aged, gray, wrinkly, and with both mental and physical decline being apparent. According to Baltes (1987), these events of normative aging are common biological changes which people go through.

The story addresses multiple aspects of the different developmental stages which people go through in their lives (Erickson, 1959). It views Norman in the old age stage where he is having personal conflicts between his integrity of being old and his despair for his inevitable death (Erickson, 1959). Chelsea, Norman's daughter, is viewed as needing to resolve issues with Norman in order to progress from young adult hood to the maturity stages of development (Erickson, 1959). Issues such as one's own mortality, marriage, and the multiple levels of family relationships are looked at in the movie. The story addresses such themes as, growing old, the bonds between father and daughter, daughter and mother, husband and wife, and dealing with the aging, decline, and inevitable death of a family member.

Story Synopsis:

The story takes place as a retired professor, Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda) and his wife Ethel (Katherine Hepburn) go to their cottage from the spring through the fall. They have owned this cottage since the early days of their marriage some 50 years ago. Going to the cabin over the summer has become an annual family tradition.

Norman's seems to have a loss of self esteem which is based on retiring from his career as a prestigious highly admired university professor. He now seems lost in his role of retirement. Norman's retirement d despair is supported by Szinovacz (2003) view of the life course perspective, with Norman not being prepared for the transition from a career to retirement.

There seems to be a conflict in Norman's "social clock" in which he expected more out of his older years and retirement than what became his reality (Neugarten, B.L., 1987). He has become an unhappy man, basically angry at life and waiting for his death. He has a sense of not accomplishing anything in his life. He currently reacts to dying with anger and is ready to die but not from an accepting point of view (Krubler-Ross, 1969). Because of Norman's anger he has become difficult to deal with. He resents his inevitable death and misplaces his anger on others (Krubler-Ross, 1969)

. The couple is joined by their daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) who Norman has not seen for years. In real life Jane Fonda is the daughter of Henry Fonda. Chelsea is coming with her fiancé Bill (Dabney Coleman) and his son Billy Ray (Doug McKeon) to celebrate her father's birthday and to drop off Billy Ray so that Chelsea and Bill can go to Europe to get married and go on their honeymoon. Chelsea has had a failed marriage in the past.

From the beginning of the movie, there was tension between Norman and Chelsea. Norman is an elderly man who is contemplating his own death. He seems to be reflecting a negative self image and anger toward his inevitable death (Krubler-Ross, 1969) which may reinforce his already negative view of his only child. Norman seems to bounce between a sense of positive self image based on his career to a feeling of loss and despair based on his anger and unacceptance of his life (Erickson, 1959).

Chelsea senses that any form of close personal contact with her father will lead to her being criticized and rejected. This leads Chelsea to have a negative self image. Chelsea seems to relate to her father from a child like point of view, putting him on a pedestal which often to common for a child when viewing a parent (Erickson, 1959). Chelsea has a need for Norman's acceptance and love so she may grow and create a loving marriage and home.

Chelsea and Norman both seem to be stuck in their own separate stages of development by not being able to resolve the personal crisis which has built up for years between them (Erickson, 1959). This lack of self esteem by Chelsea as well as her feeling of a lack of feeling loved is demonstrated by her reaction to Norman's comments on how he wished she was a boy instead of a girl and his constantly referring to Chelsea as a fat little girl.

This tension is only compounded, between Norman and Chelsea, when Chelsea and Bill return from their honeymoon. Upon returning Chelsea finds that Billy Ray and Norman have developed a kind of father and child relationship, which Chelsea feels that she and Norman never had. Chelsea through Norman's relationship with Billy Ray learns to view her father as a loving and caring man. This is her transition to her mature adult stage is represented by marriage and parenthood according to Erickson (1959).

Norman then begins to feel good about Chelsea now that she is married to Bill and that she has now become the step mother of Billy Ray. This relationship with Billy Ray fills Norman's role as a grandfather for Billy Ray. Norman and Chelsea have made peace with each other.

This leads Norman to a shift from anger to bargaining and settling a crisis. This will help Norman transcend to a stage closer to the acceptance of his inevitable death (Kruber-Ross, 1969). Norman (Krubler-Ross, 1969) has bargained his way with Chelsea and achieved a goal he had search for years for. He can now feel that less is left unfinished.

The movie ends with Norman and Chelsea finding a meeting of the minds. Chelsea now has a feeling of love and respect for her father. Chelsea is now married and a step mother and Norman have settled a personal problem he had with his daughter that seemed important for both Norman and Chelsea to resolve. This leads to Norman finding success in his raising of Chelsea and a sense of having a productive life and for Chelsea to move from the young adult stage to the mature adult stage (Erickson, 1959).

This indirectly rewards Ethel for her efforts to resolve her family's problems. She can now concentrate on her marriage



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