A film dealing with themes of old age, the approach of death and the lack of communication in family relationships, On Golden Pond was a bitter-sweet comedy/drama in which Henry Fonda played Norman Thayer, a crotchety retired professor who returns with his wife (Katharine Hepburn) to Golden Pond, their idyllic lakeside cottage in New England, USA, to spend the 48th summer of their married life together.
Though his 80th birthday is imminent, time has done little to mellow Thayer and he becomes even more irascible with the arrival of his daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) with her future husband Bill (Dabney Coleman) and his foul-mouthed 13-year-old son Billy (Doug McKeon).
Chelsea has been unable to communicate with her father for most of her life. In return, Norman has constantly under-estimated and undermined her – and it is only after she leaves for Europe with Bill and leaves young Billy behind that we see why.
Norman Thayer always wanted a son, and the touching friendship that develops between the 13-year-old and the octogenarian makes this abundantly clear. Indeed it is their relationship (which blossoms during a series of fishing trips, one of which almost ends in tragedy when their boat capsizes) that is the mainstay of the film.
The most touching sequences are reserved for the end of the film when Chelsea (now married to Bill) returns to Golden Pond to collect Billy and finally manages to arrive at some sort of mutual understanding with her father.
Having made peace with his daughter and bid his newly-acquired family adieu, Norman collapses while alone with his wife and enacts a near-death scene of great poignancy, which no doubt helped to clinch Fonda’s first-ever Oscar.
Sadly, Henry Fonda died nine months after the film’s release.
Norman Thayer Jr
Chelsea Thayer Wayne