Film: Columbia Pictures, directed by Robert Benton (1979)
Kramer vs. Kramer describes what no couple imagines at the beginning of marriage: divorce. It also describes the very painful happenings that occur post-divorce, especially when a child is involved. In the case of this novel, the situation is still entirely different from the standard. Kramer vs. Kramer centers on Ted Kramer and his young son Billy after his wife Joanna abruptly leaves the two and moves to California. After Joanna leaves, Ted must find a balance between his social life, his bank account, his high-pressure career and all the while, learning to raise his son by himself. In the beginning, Ted struggles and can't imagine life without Joanna to care for Billy, but over time he learns to appreciate and embrace his new role as a caring and dedicated father. But just as everything seems to be going right, Joanna returns to New York City in search of custody of her 5 year old son causing a passionate custody battle to ensue, which leaves audiences to wonder what the final decision will be and whether it will be the right one. In Kramer vs. Kramer, love really knows no bounds between father and child.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Kramer vs. Kramer. At times, the novel seemed to stretch on forever and it seemed almost too long and detailed. However, each of the characters and the situations that they were put in seemed timeless and relevant 35 years since it's first publication. This novel's relevancy is probably what is most enjoyable about reading Kramer vs. Kramer. Any of the events which occur in this novel could occur today with only a few slight changes. Marriage, love, loss and divorce still occur and somewhere in between it all, there are still child custody battles and what not.
Kramer vs. Kramer also speaks to what love really is and how love has no need to be conventional, standard or so called "normal." Ted learns to love his son, despite the fact that his role (during the late 70's) would have been to spend some occasional time while his wife was out of the house. Ted also learns to love and embrace the changes and struggles that come about, especially when he decides to fight for the custody for his son. He creates a list of Pros and Cons about why keeping Billy would be worth it, and his list of Cons is much longer than his Pros, but he still chooses to try to keep Billy with him. As for other kinds of love in Kramer vs. Kramer, it is evident that Ted still loves Joanna in some way, which makes reading the novel all the more painful and important because one realizes that love lingers even after divorce.
Kramer vs. Kramer is surprisingly insightful, touching and even humorous. As a reader, one feels connected to the characters because they are surely a reflection of the people who surround us in some way or another. This novel is at times tedious and slow, but the overall effect of the novel is quite nice because it speaks to real life and real problems that many people are surely facing. It isn't over dramatic, but rather it is even over realistic because it deals with relationships and illustrates how all things must change eventually. I would recommend this novel, despite its flaws.
In comparison to the film adaption, the novel was rather different. First of all, the timing is different. The novel goes into more depth (obviously) and it describes Ted and Joanna's relationship before and after Billy is born. It describes their first meeting and the birth of their son. It also explores Joanna's feeling and thoughts as she raises Billy in the early years. In other words, the novel gives the audience a more comprehensive look at the marriage and it's subsequent break-down following the first few years of Billy's life. In addition, in the film, Joanna comes back seeking custody of Billy, about 15 months later after she leaves. In the novel, Joanna returns a few years later. In the film, Meryl Streep portrays Joanna, while Dustin Hoffman plays her ex-husband Ted. (On a side note, Joanna has black hair in the novel, and blonde hair in the film.) The novel also had a much slower pace in comparison to the movie. For example, in the movie Ted loses one job and then gets another. In the film, Ted loses two jobs until he finds a third in time for the custody battle.
This seems like a ridiculous thing to say, but how much time you want to invest in Kramer vs. Kramer should dictate whether you want to read the book or simply watch the movie (if you are at all interested). Of course, you could always read the book and watch the movie, but I digress...The film is much different from the book in terms of timing and how the relationship is shown. The book gives a more in depth look at everything sometimes to the point of one's boredom. On the other hand, the film is much quicker, but in the end, one might want something more. The film also ends slightly differently than the novel. (I prefer the film's ending). I recommend both the film and the book, but I suggest reading the book first.
*Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman and director Robert Benton each received an Oscar for this film.