Robert Benton, 1979


Joanna (Meryl Streep) and Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) break up.


Ted Kramer is a workaholic New-York successful adman. He’s proud to come home (late) and tell his wife he got promoted. But the big piece of news comes from her instead.

I’m leaving you…

This is brutal. Ted will have to deal with his son Billy (Justin Henry). The beginning is chaotic.

I hate you!

And I hate you back, you little shit!

Then the two find their rhythm. Joanna comes back to ask for the divorce and Billy’s custody, which she will obtain after a painful trial. Eventually, she decides to let Billy live with his father.

I came here to take my son home. And I realized he already is home.


Kramer vs Kramer is about making sacrifices.

A divorce is an opposition between two parts. The trade off is never easy, especially when there is a child involved. There are always two sides of the story.

From Ted’s perspective, this is all unfair. He simply doesn’t understand. He believes he was the perfect husband. He’s mad at the world. He blames Margaret (Jane Alexander) and the Women’s Liberation Movement. He’s a victim.

I didn’t know it would happen to me!!

What about Joanna’s perspective? She spent her life in the shadow of her husband. Doesn’t she have the right to be unhappy in her couple because Ted was an absent father and husband? It must not have been easy for her either.

Joanna is a very unhappy woman and it took a lot of courage to walk out this door.

It even took courage to leave instead of throwing herself through a window. She’s not leaving because she wants to but because she has to, for her own sake. She needs to rebuilt and take care of herself a little bit. Joanna is not selfish. She was desperate. She’s not been listened to for years. She had the courage to leave and start her life all over again. By disappearing she enables Ted to get closer to his son. This process will allow Ted to look at life differently. His career was everything. His son will come first. Ted needs to find a job in one day otherwise he’ll lose Billy for sure. He accepts a step down to keep his chances because things matter more, even in New York. The beautiful story that takes place between Ted and Billy happens, only thanks to Joanna. When she leaves she gives the man chance to be a little less stupid. Ted becomes more aware of what happened. He takes responsibility.

That’s why Mommy left, isn’t it? Because I was bad?

Is that what you think? No. That’s not it, Billy. Your mom loves you very much… and the reason she left has nothing to do with you. I don’t know if this will make sense, but I’ll try to explain it to you. I think the reason why Mommy left… was because for a long time… I kept trying to make her be a certain kind of person. A certain kind of wife that I thought she was supposed to be. And she just wasn’t like that. She was… She just wasn’t like that. I think that she tried for so long to make me happy… and when she couldn’t, she tried to talk to me about it. But I wasn’t listening. I was too busy, too wrapped up… just thinking about myself. And I thought that anytime I was happy, she was happy. But I think underneath she was very sad. Mommy stayed here longer than she wanted because she loves you so much. And the reason why Mommy couldn’t stay anymore… was because she couldn’t stand me. She didn’t leave because of you. She left because of me.

Ted looks like the hero for being able to take care of his son the way he should. He sacrificed his career for Billy. Now he knows how to cook French toasts and he’s on time to pick up his son for school. Joanna is the true star who puts the men she loves before herself. She sacrificed herself to let Ted and Billy be happy. Like many fools, Ted realizes the great woman he was living with, only too late.

What sacrifice are we ready to make out of love? Why would only one parent have to sacrifice? Can we have kids without making sacrifices?


This publication reflects the views only of the author.

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