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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

The Golden Years

On Golden Pond (1981) on IMDb

Plot Overview

The camera shows us a sweeping vista of a Maine lake at twilight. An old couple approaches their rustic summer cabin. “The loons,” remarks Ethel Thayer (Katharine Hepburn), “they're welcoming us back”. Replies her husband Norman Thayer Jr. (Henry Fonda), “I don't hear them.”

Norman is pushing 80, a decade ahead of his wife Ethel. No longer among us (“She died, you know”) is the lesbian Miss Appley of a “deviant lifestyle.” She “was 97 in July.” Expected to visit for Norman's 80th birth­day party is their distant daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) and her latest boyfriend, aged 45, Bill Ray (Dabney Coleman) a divorcee. He'll bring with him his 13-year-old son Billy (Doug McKeon.) A fixture around there is postman Charlie Martin (William Lanteau) who still carries a torch for Chelsea, and a humongous rainbow trout who gets caught and released from time to time. All that it takes for an old man and a boy to become friends is to go fishing together. Father-daughter relations are more complicated.


“On Golden Pond” gives us an almost biblical template of what one can expect in his golden years. (Eccl. 12:1) “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;” It would be good for Billy to straighten out his attitude while he's young enough to enjoy life.

(Eccl. 12:2) “While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:” Norman's vision isn't as clear as it once was. He has trouble looking out for rocks in the water once the light starts to dim.

(Eccl. 12:3) “In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,” It's a task for him to heft a box of china. He's bent over. His teeth are fewer in number, which he hopes the dentist can remedy. He needs a magnifying lense to read the sports page.

(Eccl. 12:4) “And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;” His hearing is weak. Can't hear the loons. Maybe he's distracted by tinnitus, as well.

(Eccl. 12:5) “Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:” He realizes he can be hurt in a fall—like the sailor doll tumbling from the mantel. He panics when he loses his way in the woods. He's got gray hair. He's got the shakes. He's losing his sex drive. He's getting ready to die and his family and friends are aware of it.

(Eccl. 12:6) “Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.” His internal organs are shot. He's got angina. He takes nitroglycerine.

(Eccl. 12:7) “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”

Billy Ray: “So, I heard you turned 80 today.”

Norman: “Is that what you heard?”

Billy Ray: “Yeah. Man, that's really old.”

Norman: “You should meet my father.”

Billy Ray: “Your father's still alive?”

Norman: “No, but you should meet him.”

Production Values

The 1981 movie, “On Golden Pond” was adapted from Ernest Thompson's 1979 play, ‘On Golden Pond.’ The movie was directed by Mark Rydell; its screen­play was written by Ernest Thompson. It stars Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, and Jane Fonda. They delivered great performances, although they hammed it up a tad. Doug McKeon who played the kid Billy Ray Jr. did a bang up competent job.

The movie is rated PG. Composer Dave Grusin contents him­self with trills & minor chords to the neglect of a principal theme. Billy Williams's cinema­tog­raphy is strikingly beautiful. Henry Fonda & Jane Fonda were real life father & daughter, with their own history to resolve.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

“On Golden Pond” is an extremely well-crafted film, although perhaps over­rated from a bias favoring the aging stars, Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. Their acting is a credit, although not with­out some shame­less pandering to the adoring audience, which is hard to take. The retired professor may be losing his mind, but he hasn't lost his wit, a wit that likely played some part in wooing a girl over ten years younger than he in his earlier years. Not a whole lot of surprises in this one; but it's inoffensive, just not an edge-of-your-seater. It's recogniz­ably a play adapted to cinema.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance. Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings. Video Occasion: Good Date Movie. Suspense: Not suspenseful at all. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.