“On Golden Pond” (A Doddering Old SOB…and Other Characters)


Ladyjustice’s memory was peaked regarding a recent  story of an elderly man in Litchfield County, Connecticut with Alzheimer’s type dementia missing since July 2007 (nearly 5 years), who was reportedly near incapacitation and remains missing without any substantial clues.

Read the 1st of the series by Jack Coraggio and Andy Thibault in Country Times: CLICK HERE

It doesn’t make sense from a medical standpoint, a search and rescue standpoint, or from a common sense perspective.  However, Tom Drew continues to be among the missing and most likely dead.  Such scenarios sadden LJ’s heart… and remind her of the frailty of the elderly and the “disposable mentality” of the elderly held by some people.

The 1979 play, “On Golden Pond” was adapted to an award-winning 1981 movie starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn (as the married couple), with an estranged daughter played by Jane Fonda…and Doug McKeon as a begrudging young guest.

The movie holds many lessons and has a charm all its own.  The character of Norman Thayer is a crusty old man whose prime in life has passed him by.  He struggles with cognitive deficits such as memory problems and disorientation as well as failing health.  But, he desperately hangs on to his pleasures and failings in life.  Norman’s pleasures are few. They include his ever patient wife, Ethel…and fishing.  His failings include an “incommunicado status” with his daughter and inability to express his true feelings.

Norman’s daughter breezes in and out of her parent’s life.  She too is filled with resentment toward her father… as if her personal failings and inflexibility was Norman’s fault.  So…she thinks she has found happiness in a new husband (Dabney Coleman) whom she brings to their summer home hoping that they will embrace him… and babysit a newly acquired step-son.

 “Billy” is a cool 13-year-old who likes to “cruise chicks and suck face” back home. He feels abandoned by his father for dumping him with an old couple.  As the story progresses, Billy is both puzzled and yet begins to like Norman and learning to fish. Billy and Norman attempt to catch the “infamous Big Walter” (i.e. the fish that got away years ago…nearly caught, but not quite.)  Ladyjustice speculates that “Big Walter” may be a metaphor for Norman’s daughter.

Ethel Thayer is a woman who unconditionally loves her family… flaws and all! She is the consummate mediator.  One gets the impression that she has sacrificed much for Norman….and accepts “the facts of life” as they are.  Scenes between Hepburn and Fonda are often priceless.

This writer does not want to give away too much.  There are many touching, sad and delightful moments in this film. Henry Fonda flawlessly delivers funny, sometimes shocking dialogue while playing “an entitled elder” as no one else could.  This, in fact, was Henry Fonda’s last role.

Memorable Video Clips:




And… what can we say in parting about advancing age?  ‘Words to the wise…

“It is not the number of years we have behind us, but the number we have before us, that makes us careful and responsible and determined to find out the truth about everything.”   George Bernard Shaw



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