World According to Garp, The (1982): George Roy Hill’s Version of John Irving Novel, Starring Robin Williams and Glenn Close in Stunning Debut

George Roy Hills’s 1982 film version of the John Irving novel The World According to Garp attempts to captures the quirky spirit while condensing the original book, but in the process it changes the focus and tone.

The movie is softer than the book, which, after all, was a poison-pen letter to the feminist movement in general and to motherhood in particular.

Robin Williams plays the title character, T.S. Garp, the son of unmarried, unorthodox feminist Jenny Fields (Glenn Close, in a stunning film debut that immediately put her on the map with an Oscar nomination).

Jenny makes any effort to broaden Garp’s outlook on life, even arranging for him to visit a prostitute (Swoosie Kurtz).  But her attempts backfire, bringing more fears, anxieties, and phobias into his psyche.

Aspiring to become a novelist, Garp succeeds in this goal at the same time that his mother publishes her first feminist manifesto. Though successful and happily married to his college sweetheart Helen Holm (Mary Beth Hurt), Garp remains envious of his fearless mother, who has taken in the radical “Ellen Jamesians,” a group named after a young woman who had her tongue cut out by a rapist.

Mutilation, and random violence, are recurrent theme in Garp’s life (and in Irving’s literary work), climaxing in more senses than one in a car accident, caused by Helen’s tryst with Michael Milton (Mark Soper).

Naturally, the movie, adapted to the screen by Steve Tesich, does not capture all the vivid and offbeat characters that the novel includes, or its picaresque texture.  Even so, John Lithgow gives a standout performance as Roberta Muldoon, a transsexual ex-football jock.

Author John Irving appears as a referee during a college wrestling match, while director George Roy Hill plays the pilot whose plane crashes into Garp’s new home.

Despite pre-publicity and good reviews, “The World According to Garp” didn’t attract as large an audience as other, more conventional Robin Williams’s movies.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Supporting Actor: John Lithgow

Supporting Actress: Glenn Close

Oscar Awards: None


Oscar Context:

The winner of the Supporting Actor Oscar was Louis Gossett Jr. for “An Officer and a Gentleman.”  Jessica Lange won the Supporting Actress Oscar for the comedy “Tootsie.”

Glenn Close was spotted by director Roy Hill in the Broadway musical “Barnum.”  Her role in this film led to bigger ones—and several Oscar nominations (both in the lead and supporting leagues).

Lithgow received another Supporting Actor nomination the following year for the melodrama, “Terms of Endearment.”