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Mark Rydell’s “On Golden Pond” Essay

Mark Rydell’s “On Golden Pond” is a drama that emphasizes the stages people of various ages endures. Utilizing Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages as learned in class, each of the main characters can be placed within a stage and their age-related crises analyzed. The film being so close to a family’s life, it becomes relatable to the audience, prompting personal reactions as well as implementing life examples of some of the theories studied in class. As there are plenty of characters that all develop changes throughout the movie, the most influential would be the main character, Norman Thayer. Throughout the movie Norman shows many prime examples or physical, cognitive, and emotional changes. All of these are tied into Norman’s challenge of accepting the fact of his own age and maybe the idea of death.

On Golden Pond is based off of accepting the fact of age, family, and dying. With this being the main focus the story goes deep and wraps around Norman’s physical state. Norman is approaching his Eightieth birthday, and one can only imagine a person’s physical appearance at this age. He is wrinkled all along his body, kind of like a shriveled up prune. Glasses rest upon his face, and he has very little hair, which he hides with a fisherman hat. Norman has many health problems such as arthritis and palpitations, but his most pressing health issue is his slow mental decline. He knows he is not at the top of his game anymore so grumpiness and a sharp tongue is his cover. According to Erikson’s stages Norman would be considered in the Late Adulthood category. The physical state of people in this category is everything that Norman is facing.

Vision becomes worse, hence why Norman wears glasses. The skin starts to become wrinkled and tough, hair loss occurs a lot faster. When this point in your life is reached the person is supposed to take the time and find meaning and satisfaction in their life rather than to become bitter and not resolve the conflict of integrity versus despair. When a person is unsuccessful at doing so they tend to feel as if their life has been wasted and will go on with many regrets. They then will be left with feelings of bitterness and despair. Norman faces this problem because he cannot find it in him to love his life, or to accept what is happening to him as he ages.

Along with physical changes throughout a person’s life comes cognitive development. These are the strongest developments and changes a person goes through in their life because they affect the person the most, without us realizing what’s actually happening. Throughout the movie Norman experiences cognitive development and it really shows through. When a person enters their Late Adulthood cognitive development includes many things.

McGraw-Hill (2006) states the following: Some aspects of memory, such as sensory memory, semantic and procedural memory, and priming appear nearly as efficient in older adults as in younger people. Other aspects, mainly the capacity of working memory and the ability to recall specific events or recently learned information, are often less efficient.

This information goes along perfectly with the character Norman. One of Norman’s toughest challenges is his loss of memory, and he is in denial about it. A scene in the movie where this is present is when Normal proceeds to tell his wife Ethel that he has gotten lost in the woods. While Norman is on his walk he becomes disoriented and scared, wandering off the trail and into the woods. After a short run that causes him to pant heavily, he finds his way back to the cottage without giving Ethel any suspicions of the incident.

He then soon begins to confess to Ethel that he got lost on his walk and needed to rush back to her. She embraces him and reassures him they will go on that same walk together to regain his memory. He wonders why she loves him so much. Norman throughout the movie also has other incidents of decline in his memory. Throughout all the years he was known for taking his boat out on the pond and going fishing, this year when he tries its almost like he forgets how to steer it. It gets so bad that Billy takes over the boat, and Norman actually leads him into a patch full of rocks, which damages the boat and throws Norman overboard.

“Women’s childhood relationships with their fathers are important to them all their lives. Regardless of age or status, women who seem clearest about their goals and most satisfied with their lives and personal and family relationships usually remember that their fathers enjoyed them and were actively interested in their development.” (Chess, Stella). Among from all the other twists and turns a person goes through in their lifetime, emotional development is by far the best and the worst. In this movie an emotional relationship is what it’s solely based off of. Norman has lived his whole entire life without having a relationship with his daughter Chelsea. In fact she hasn’t seen him in years and for the first time she is coming to spend time for his big birthday. When Chelsea arrives the tension and resentment is so present with both the characters. Norman’s problem is that he doesn’t realize his words and actions strongly affect Chelsea in more than one-way.

One scene that really shows how Norman feels about life and that can really affect Chelsea is when they assemble for his birthday cake. He states that he has little to say for living for four score years. Instead of expressing his love to his daughter he makes her feel as if she has had no impact on him what so ever. That very next day Chelsea tells her mother Ethel that even though she is all the way in Los Angeles he makes her feel inadequate from a distance. Now every person knows that in order to build a relationship it takes two. Another relationship Norman builds throughout the movie is through Chelsea’s stepson Billy. Billy gives Norman a run for his money and shows him that not everyone will take his negativity. Norman and the boy slowly begin to bond and share laughs with each other. Their biggest bonding experience is when they go fishing out on the lake to catch the big fish they call “Walter”. These experiences that Norman shares with Billy make him realize all he has missed out on with his own daughter Chelsea.

Rougemont-Bucking (2013) research states the following: In particular, it focuses on the fact that the limited capacity of the working memory to process now-relevant information can be turned into an advantage, when the individual is occupied by dealing with unpleasant emotion. Based on a phenomenon known as dual-task interference (DTI), this emotion can be chased by intense arousal due to clearly identifiable external stressors.

This research on emotional development fits perfectly with Late Adulthood and maybe as to why Norman is so distant with his daughter. Since his memory is going slowly declining, his mind doesn’t find it hard to deal with unpleasant emotion. Norman is kind of like a rock he is just there and doesn’t feel much.

To go back to the quote from before “Women’s relationship’s with their fathers are important to them all their life…” This quote ties my paper together perfectly. As much as it is a quote more to Chelsea than Norman it strongly shows how a daughter can be so affected without a father’s love and support. This movie is not only based off of Norman’s aging and one of his last summer’s but it is about the growth of a daughter and father’s nonexistent relationship. Throughout the movie Norman shows many prime examples or physical, cognitive, and emotional changes. We as an audience go into the mind of Norman Thayer and learn that even as a grumpy old soul, somewhere deep down in there is a huge heart with lots of love to give.


Gilbert B. (Producer), & Rydell M. (Director). (1981) _On Golden Pond_ (Motion Picture). United States: Universal Pictures

Papalia, D. E. Olds. S. W. Feldman. R. D (2006). Physical and Cognitive Development in Late Adulthood. _Higered.mcgraw-hill_. Retrieved November 28, 2013, http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com.

Rougemont-Bucking, A: Grivel J. (2013). Risk Perception and Emotional Coping: A

Pathway for Behavioral Addiction?. European Addiction Research (20.2), 49. (November 28, 2013) from Proquest on the World Wide Web: http://proquest.umi.com/pdqweb

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