Based on a novel by John Irving, the film follows the story of TS Garp (played, as an adult, by Robin Williams), a writer with an unusual beginning. He was conceived when his mother, Jenny Fields (Glenn Close), has sex with a dying soldier when she was a nurse in the war. As a child, she rarely panders him, and often embarrasses and dominates him. When he decides, as a young man, to head to New York to pursue a career as a writer, she follows, writes her story and inadvertently becomes a hero to the feminist cause, often overshadowing and partially defining his life.
I read this book many years ago and found it compelling, and remember thinking that the film captured the themes of the book – identity, the place of women in 1970s American culture, when it is to be a man – really well. Funny that, because watching it this time made me wonder why they hated women so much. By ‘they’, I mean many of the male characters in the film, the filmmakers, and even John Irving. Things that can be forgiven of a man have horrifying results for the women, and the women in the film are so extremely aggressively hateful of the men as well. While the individual main characters seem to truly care for each other, everyone else is a caricature, from the hooker with a heart of gold, to the militant feminists disfiguring themselves in a misguided way of supporting a rape victim, even to the horny male student insisting on forcing a sexual act from his lover.
Perhaps it is just that there is far too much story for one film, and in trying to cram it all in, too much of the important detail and nuance is lost. Or perhaps John Irving really did have that much hate.
The World According to Garp was nominated for Oscars for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (John Lithgow) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Glenn Close)