Rope of Silicon Movie Club

RopeofSilicon Movie Club: 'The Ice Storm' (1997)

The molecules have stopped, it's clean

The Ice Storm
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

For the second gathering of the RopeofSilicon Movie Club, I chose Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, which is not only a great film with stellar performances, direction and cinematography, but also a wonderful film deserving of a closer look for its overall composition and storytelling.

Involving characters locked in depression, which perhaps contributes to their willingness for experimentation, this is a generational story in which no generation is left untouched. Each seems to be wandering, lost in their own personal wilderness of confusion rooted in the past, clouded by the present and extending into the future. Family ties are fractured, if not broken, and adultery, alcohol and drugs play a part in a sexually driven film where a dinner conversation over Deep Throat holds more meaning than just one.

Not having seen the film before assigning it as a Movie Club selection, I was excited to see how the narrative was shaped, not only by the characters, but by the setting. Later this year I urge you to see Killing Them Softly, a film that utilizes Barrack Obama in very much the same way as The Ice Storm utilizes Richard Nixon, whose voice can constantly be heard through the television. Nixon represents not only where the country has been to that point, but where it is going. The end of the free love era, the coming of trying times and a society on edge.

The Ice Storm
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

I found the use of Paul's (Tobey Maguire) obsession with "The Fantastic Four" series of comic books equally fascinating. An obvious parallel can be found between the dysfunction of the characters Paul is reading about and the members of his own family. It's significant in this day and age of filmmaking where superhero films dominated the landscape with characters dressing up in costume and playing out their obvious good guy/bad guy roles. The question is, who's to say The Ice Storm isn't a superhero movie in and of itself.

Something that frustrates passionate film lovers about the recent rash of superhero films isn't that they aren't interested in exploring the fantastic world of fantastic characters, but the lack of subtlety in these films leaves so little to the imagination. The Dark Knight has become the tired "go to" when talking about superhero films, but most don't even seem to touch upon what makes it a stand out, often referring merely to its "dark" and "gritty" tone. That's not what made it great.

What made The Dark Knight great was finally a superhero movie featured characters that weren't entirely black and white. There was a sense of drama and character. And people that only watch only those kinds of films were taken aback having received a small taste of what real drama can offer... The problem is convincing these same people there is better out there.

The Ice Storm
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

If I call The Ice Storm a superhero movie -- or any well-crafted drama for that matter -- how does it change your perception? Who is the good guy? Who's the bad guy? Who's the hero and who's the villain? It's these shades of grey that create the dramatic tension of the piece and granted, the end goal isn't to stop a giant, CGI sand monster from destroying the city, but considering the stakes of the early-to-mid '70s and the trying times ahead as the country was soon going to come face-to-face with the the only president to resign from office, some may say the consequences were equally large.

The mere thought of comparing this to a superhero film conjures the image of Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) lifting Mikey (Elijah Wood) from the icy road and later laying him at the foot of his father (Jamey Sheridan).

The generational aspect of the film and the ties binding parents to their children, even if it is simply a moment of shop-lifting, we are constantly seeing characters learn from their mistakes. Note, while Wendy (Christina Ricci) gets away with her theft, her mother (Joan Allen) does not.

And, for me, the end scene, bookending the feature in one of the most unlikely of places, was truly a touch of expertise filmmaking.

The Ice Storm
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

In an essay accompanying the Criterion release of the film by Bill Krohn, he reveals Ang Lee and screenwriter James Schamus (Lust, Caution, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) -- adapting the novel by Rick Moody -- originally envisioned the film as "a satirical comedy in the Billy Wilder tradition." It was only through editing and a wonderful score by Mychael Danna -- whose score for Moneyball was one of the best from last year -- that Lee and editor Tim Squyres (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) turned it into the film you see today.

Outside of his first three films and the upcoming release of Life of Pi, I've now seen all of Ang Lee's features and this is easily the best I've seen. Everything you can grab hold of in his later features is all so perfectly tackled here. He allows his characters to exist in the world he's created without any sense of manipulation. He doesn't judge his characters, he allows setting, circumstance and the audience be the judge. If there is any measure of manipulation to be had it is in the final scene, which, to me brought the entire thematic package together.

SOME STARTER QUESTIONS

At the end of the film were you left with a sense of hope or despair?

What do you make of the film's interpretation of the early '70s? If this film were to be set in present day, what differences would the families exhibit?

Was there any particular character you were able to identify with? Why?

Alternatively, were you able to find sympathy for an specific character despite their transgressions?

DISCUSSION RULES

The rules are simple and, if necessary, will update as we go along.

  1. No topic is off limits as long as it pertains to the movie of the week or comes as a natural progression of the conversation.
  2. Keep your comments to a reasonable length. I know the urge to write a lot at once is there, but try to rein it in and get out one thought at a time. That way the conversation will move more fluidly and make sure none of your thoughts are overlooked.
  3. NO BULLYING: This is important, while you are free to disagree, do so in a mature manner. Hopefully I won't have to explain that any further.
  4. Suggestions for future Movie Club titles must be emailed to movieclub@ropeofsilicon.com. Comments on actual Movie Club articles pertaining to future discussions and not the film being discussed will be deleted to make sure we remain on topic.

VOTE FOR THE NOVEMBER 19, 2012 SELECTION

Based on last week's poll, the November 12, 2012 Movie Club selection is Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1983) starring Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott and Sandra Bernhard

Use the following poll to vote for the November 19, 2012 Movie Club selection and to suggest films for future entries direct all your emails to movieclub@ropeofsilicon.com.

Vote for the November 19, 2012 Movie Club selection.

  • Flirting with Disaster (David O. Russell) (69 Votes)
  • Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman) (64 Votes)
  • The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes) (22 Votes)
  • Beat the Devil (John Huston) (12 Votes)
  • Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (Jacques Tati) (11 Votes)

Total Voters: 178

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Next week's film will be Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies and videotape. For more information and an updated schedule, visit the Movie Club homepage.

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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

    Good write up Brad. Too bad I didn't enjoy it as much as you. While the film does provide some interesting commentary on the nuclear family, the wife who's ignored, the parents who can't communicate with their children etc, etc; I've seen these themes dealt with in much better films like The Graduate and American Beauty. The Ice Storm felt a bit too melodramatic for me.

    • Susan

      AS, I'm interested in knowing why you think these elements are done better in American Beauty? For me, that movie works in broader, easier gestures and lack the nuance that Lee and company bring in The Ice Storm.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

        I'd agree that AB lacks nuance, but I hardly describe Ice Storm as "nuanced" either. Brokeback Mountain also suffered from a lack of subtly, if memory serves correct.

        As for why I thought AB handled those similar themes better; I feel like the social commentary was more searing and better articulated in that film than it was in this (if that makes any sense). I'd have to watch AB again though, as it has been many years since I last saw it.

        • Susan

          I'd be interested in seeing your new AB thoughts. I find that it doesn't even remotely hold up.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

      I have to say, The Graduate, American Beauty, and The Ice Storm are three films that I absolutely love. While they all deal with similar themes, they do so in a different manner and I think that's what makes them all stand out to me.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/IngmarTheBergman/ IngmarTheBergman

        I find those three films all present an area, however what The Ice Storm does is it displays raw, intense, dark and realistic emotions.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Timothy/ Timothy

      I felt what was the edge that The Ice Storm had was that it wasn't portraying a modern era like American Beauty and The Graduate, but it was looking back. They knew how the era began and ended, so they were able to focus on one period of the times, without trying to encompass everything.

    • Lewis

      I would label The Ice Storm as being very understated. Not melodramatic. The fine screenplay holds its punches when they're needed. But once they come, the film is emotionally devastating. But melodramatic? No way.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Timothy/ Timothy

    I'll start off by saying that this is actually one of my favourite movies. I absolutely love it. It's depiction of the 70s is spot on, and the cast is excellent. Kevin Kline gives, in my opinion, gives his best performance. Joan Allen brings the "ice" in her chilly portrayal of the silent wife. Sigourney Weaver turns in one of her best performances, and Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire and Elijah Wood are all uniformly excellent.

    I find what strikes me the most is the disillusionment at the times. When Kevin Kline gives Tobey Maguire "the talk", the scene is made so awkward not by the subject matter, but by the smirk on Tobey Maguire's face. He knows what Kevin Kline is going to say, because he learned it about two years ago. The situation is awkward because Kevin Kline dosen't know.

    At the end,I didn't feel depression. In fact I think it may have been a happy ending. Kevin Kline is finally realizing what he has been denying for sometime, and the fact that he is doing it publicly adds to the possible salvaging of his life.

    The 70s were a unique time in history. The people who had been preaching love in the 60s were angry that they hadn't accomplished their goals, so they revolted. The 60s was a time of disillusionment, but the 70s were the bitter realization that nothing had changed. This story could be remade for modern times, but it would lose its edge. The film showcases a decade in one film. To put it in any other time would make it lose its biting edge.

    I personally believe that Tobey Maguire's character is the easiest to relate to (although in the novel he does have sex with/rape Katie Holmes' character), but everyone has shared some of Kevin Kline's character's emotions at one point. The feeling of being adventurous, and then realizing that you may have destroyed your life.

    You do feel sorry for Kevin Kline, as he is character is so pathetic, yet you can't pity him because he acts so self-assured. The most moving scene for me is when Ben finds Mikey, the look on his face is one of absolute confusion. Why is he dead? It is not the how that bothers him but the why. Why him and not me? When Joan Allen has sex with Jamey Sheredian in the car, the scene is so awkward yet she keeps an icy cool facade.

    I've used the word awkward a lot, yet perhaps it is the defining word. Or maybe that's just me.

    • Torryz

      I never thought they had sex in the car. Is that in the book? I thought they just kissed and then realized that they were embarrassed.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Timothy/ Timothy

        Maybe I'm getting confused, I read the book immediately after i saw the movie, so I may be mixing the two.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Will-E/ Will-E

        I see the end as hopeful. The final scene shows the nuclear family all back together. To me the film is about finding comforts. I believe that ultimately Ben has realized that his family is his ultimate comfort. All of the events of the film lead to this revelation, but the loss of Michael is the final straw.

        I found symphathy in pretty much all of the characters but mostly the scene where Janey comes home from the key party liason, and also the preacher. He too was trying to find new comforts and break free of his social conventions, no different from the other characters. But he never gets to experience it to find if he would be happier in his own life or in a new one.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

    I loved this film. I found it to be a great mosaic of characters that I really cared about and great individual scenes. It's a film that I'll definitely buy when Criterion puts out a Blu-Ray some day.

    The ending of the film is interesting, because you could argue that there is a sense of hope. Kevin Kline's character breaking down and crying could be a symbol of this, him being ready to move on and ask forgiveness of his past sins. But at the same time, think of all that's occurred: the death of Michael, the entire destruction of the marriages of both families.

    The one thing I noticed about this film was that while the 70s was recreated accurrately, it wasn't overdone, meaning it didn't go as over the top with crazy outfits, cars, etc. as most films do. I wonder if this was done on purpose to avoid the audience focusing on the time period but rather on the story and the characters. Though still, the time period obviously does provide an important viewpoint, an example being the references to Nixon and watergate.

    I can't say that I found sympathy with any specific character as they all brought troubles upon themselves. Whether it was Kiline choosing to cheat on his wife or his wife retaliating by cheating on him, all of the characters that were sufferring brought it upon themself (or at least that's how I saw it). The characters that I connected with the most were of the younger generation, probably because I am nearest to their age. Michael, Wendy, and Paul were the three that I connected most with, and it was their moments in particulare that stood out for me in the film.

    Now, which film should I vote for next. I've seen The Killing of a Chinese Bookie before, but love it so much it'd be great to discuss with others. But, I've never seen Cries and Whispers and really would love to. Decisions, decisions, decisions...

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Timothy/ Timothy

      I have to say, I agree with your opinion completely (that rarely happens for me).

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

    First I'd like to say that the shot you screen-capped in the article is probably one of the best I've ever seen.

    I remember watching this movie when I was younger and something about it just felt special. Especially the familial tension and teenage angst on display considering my age. When I sat down to watch it a couple days ago, now 20, I understand it all so much more I guess.

    I've been reading around about other peoples opinions about who they sympathize more with and the consensus seemed to be Jim Carver. (Jamey Sheridan) I could understand why. His family barely pays any attention to him and he's lost a son by the end of the film, and possibly a wife. Lee does interesting things with this character as far as his involvement and screen time. He's not seen as much as the rest of the characters. That probably factors into the majority of opinions that place him at the top of the sympathy list. Lee almost makes the viewers characters in and of themselves in ignoring this character who's probably the most inherently good of the entire cast. But for me, The other three primary adults carry more sympathy from me.

    Ben Hood (Calvin Kline) is at the forefront of the movie as far as screentime goes so I guess it's kind of obvious that I would sympathize the most with him. He'd probably be the one I identify most with as well. He's a person who tries to do good things and is never trying to hurt anybody. He never is malicious towards anyone but he's the one who carries the burden of his own mistakes yes, but also the mistakes or emotional weight of all the people around him. The ending is him letting it all out. Finally crying. Finally letting go and feeling the pain of all his and everyone else's transgressions.

    So for me, the ending is kind of a mixture of both hope and despair. Yes, it seems like the Hood's are going to be fine, at least for me it does, but it's at the cost of a boys life and a roller coaster of lying and cheating and hatred. Throughout the movie, we're meant to sympathize and want these people to get better, and the fact that only half of them seem to be on the right track is very sobering. Which is why I loved the movie quite so much.

  • Anodos

    I'll just start with a personal memory: I first saw this film exactly five years ago, and it inspired me to watch a whole shedload of films with dysfunctional American families...
    Good times! I found it particularly interesting coming from outside the culture - I felt it gave me a real 'flavour' of what America was like in the early 70s.

    Some quick observations:
    Brilliant acting. Loved all the main players, but for some reason Joan Allen really stood out. (Also one of the few films in which I like Christina Ricci.)
    Here's a review by Ebert:
    http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19971017/REVIEWS/710170305/1023
    I always enjoy reading multiple perspectives on a film, as it helps me to crystallise and clarify my own opinions. His summary is especially perceptive:
    "They all feel the need for something. What we sense after the film is that the natural sources of pleasure have been replaced with higher-octane substitutes, which have burnt out the ability to feel joy. Going through the motions of what once gave them escape, they feel curiously trapped."

    As to the starter questions - well, I for one felt more despair than hope at the end, but it's fairly ambiguous; is the tragic event going to bring reconciliation, or only numb them further and drive them deeper into the abyss? Are they actually capable of learning from their past mistakes? Guess we'll never know...

    Oh, and if the film were set in the present day? For one thing, I'm fairly sure divorce would be on the cards for at least one couple - I don't know if this is accurate, but my impression is that the early 70s were still fairly conservative in this respect, and a lot more families would stay together 'for the children's sake' than would do so nowadays. Any comments?

    Finally, for some reason I always think of Larkin's poem This Be The Verse in connection with this film. Something to do with the damage of emotional repression.

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    Pessimistic, but sometimes so very true, sadly.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Kessler/ Kessler

    Very good write-up, Brad. This was a great choice for the club. I also thought this was a great movie for the same reasons you did.

    At the end of the movie, I was left with a sense of despair. All of the families have serious problems. The father will have to deal with his dead son for the rest of his life and eventually confront his wife for cheating on him. The Hood family also have problems, but they mainly fall with the parents. The parents will have to deal with their own affairs and I didn't get the sense that Joan Allen was ready to forgive Kevin Kline for his actions.

    The one character that I identified with was Paul. It maybe because I'm also in high school, but I also could understand his frustrations. The one line that got me was when Katie Holmes says to Paul that she liked him like a brother. I could easily identify with that because I've heard that line before and could understand his feelings. Paul was always the nice guy, but that meant nothing to the girls he liked. The girls wanted the guys who could show them a good time and Paul wasn't that kind of guy. To me, his roommate represented the more out-going, fun, partying guys, while Paul represented the more quiet, nicer, and more understanding guys. The fact that some girls would rather choose the former can fill a guy like Paul with sadness and anger.

    One character that I surprisingly felt sympathy for was Sigourney Weaver's character. At first, she was a cheating housewife and not very likable. But when she comes home from the party, crawls on the bed, and gets in the fetal position, I actually felt bad for her. It's never said what happened to her, but I thought that she may have felt guilty about all of her previous affairs and this was the one that made her realize it.

    Another thing that I found interesting was that the children were much more open about sexuality than the adults. The children always knew what they want and were able to communicate well to each other, but the adults had to resort to deception, swinger parties, and affairs to fill their own desires.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

      If seems as if we both were able to connect with Paul for the same reasons (I'm in high school myself as well).

      The one thing I will challenge you on, however, is the kids knowing exactly what they want with sexuality. I completely agree with you except in one instance: the seen where Michael's younger brother (forgetting his name at the moment) refuses to take off his pants for Wendy. Now, this relationship does end nicely whern Wendy and the boy are eventually able to connect sexually, though there may have been this one misstep along the way.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Kessler/ Kessler

        That is a good point and I did consider that for a second, but I think that younger brother was more or less afraid because it was actually happening. It felt like he wasn't ready rather than being uncertain. Remember the scenes of him ogling Wendy? that showed that he wanted Wendy, but when the moment came, he didn't really know what to do. However, when that moment came again, he was honest and professed his love for her.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

      I feel like Joan Allen is going to forgive him for the sake of their family. After seeing how broken the Carver's are and the loss of their child, she might just stick it out and maybe go back to the couples therapy or fix it all on their own. She saw the way the Carver's boys were. Disjointed. I don't think Kevin Kline nor Joan Allen had lost any love for their children.

  • Lewis

    First....I would like to say that The Ice Storm should have been nominated for Best Picture back in 1997. Also, it remains Ang Lee's masterpiece.

    Okay...I've seen this film about 6-7 times when it played in theaters. Haven't seen it in awhile, yet there is still much that can be pulled from the film.

    I love the ending. I find it "hopeful" in a sense. Yet, their lives going forward as a family remain somewhat uncertain, especially amid the tragedies that have occurred (both sexual and painful). When Kevin Kline breaks down crying in the drivers seat after picking up their son (Maguire) from the train station. Joan Allen puts her hand on his shoulder, trying to comfort him...saying assuredly, "Dan..Dan". Perfection in terms of execution, acting, and writing.

    Speaking of those three things, the narrative is measured in calculated paces. The storu builds its own momentum, and thus concludes in a series of "climaxes" so to speak. The disastrous key party for Kline and Allen's characters. The death of Elijah Wood's character from being electrocuted (hence, the ominous title). Kline's adultery with Sigourney Weaver. The tragedies permeate Lee's film. Some first time viewers may have found it too depressing or dark. I believe otherwise.

    The actors have never been as good as they were here. Kline hits his character's flaws on the head. Allen is just as as devastating as his long-suffering wife. The kids add fine support, notably Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood and Christina Ricci. Whatever happened to these guys? Why aren't they making these same kinds of films today? Even the younger brother of Wood...forgot the young kid's name (he also played the prodigy in Jodie Foster's Little Man Tate..from 1994, 95?) Anyways, the peformances are top-notch.

    And then finally, the screenplay, based on the novel, and adapted by longtime Lee collaborator and producer James Schamus, should've been nominated as well. The affecting opening monologue in voiceover from Maguire, equating the story to the Fantastic Four comic book is unforgettable. As the train squeaks along the rails. The ice cracking. The cold night sky beaming down. Everything is set into motion.

    An overlooked gem. The film was rightfully praised by critics, but it didn't do much at the box office unfortunately. It still remains the Best Picture, in my opinion, of 1997, along with L.A. Confidential.

  • Engenius

    I enjoyed this film quite a bit. It had a great sense of humor and the characters felt very genuine. There were problems I had with how the drama played out, at times, the film felt a bit melodramatic and at others the film felt forced. I found the parallels between the comic book and what the movie represented were a bit obvious and the voice-over narration from Tobey Maguire's character were a bit self important. But there were times that the movie really worked for me. The scenes where the characters can just be the characters really were fascinating. I felt the most fascinating aspect of the movie was how the "youngest generation" was portrayed. The three young kids all starting to deal with their sexuality was done very honestly.

    Most of the acting was very good, I especially enjoyed Sigourney Weaver and Joan Allen. I felt like the shots of the progressing ice storm really foreshadowed what would happened with Elijah wood's character at the end. Once the ice began to form I practically knew some tragedy would occur. I think the best scene is the final scene in the car with the whole family together. It really ties everything up nicely without much talking.

    As far as Ang Lee's filmography goes this is one of his lesser works, in my opinion, but thats because he made Crouching Tiger, Brokeback Mountain and Sense and Sensibility, all of which I enjoyed more. Life of Pi remains one of my most anticipated movies of this year.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mikey/ Mikey

    Great piece Brad. Really glad I watched this.

    People have touched on most of my feelings already so I'd just like to mention one thing and that is the ice itself. Countless times throughout the movie, a scene will open on a shot of ice (weather it's on the tracks, in a glass, in an ice-cube-maker-thing). Personally I saw the dynamic within the families as quite like a piece of ice. The relationships within the Hood and Carver families had slowly been melting away over time. On the surface it looked like each family was completely intact but upon second look, it was ready to break.

    Conversely, I saw the death of Mikey as a sudden crack in the ice. Unlike melting it happened suddenly and with no real reason. Now a piece of the ice(family) is missing but unlike gradual melting, it's so obvious that something is wrong that everyone is forced to look more closely at what the state of their family was. Personally, the film ended on a hopeful note for me.

  • Randall McMurphy

    I'm going to start by saying I liked the film a lot, my favorite scene was where Tobey Maguire's character is stuck in a very awkward situation when Katie Holmes falls asleep on his lap. His character is the one I liked the most, he was the only one who didn't really do anything wrong in my opinion and the only one who enjoyed the little things in life like the scene where he runs to get to the train and feels happy as a kid when he does get to it on time.
    I felt the ending left me with a sense of despair for Tobey Maguire's character and hope for the rest, the relationship of both couples have reached rock bottom but with the death of Elijah Wood maybe they will learn to care more for eachother than before.
    If the film where set in present day it wouldn't be as good as it is, I just think the story really fits in the time it is set in.
    I was able to identify with Tobey Maguire's character a lot, that same situation he was in with Katie Holmes happened to me once.
    I found sympathy for Kevin Kline's character and I really hated Signourey Weaver's character, she was cruel and I didn't understand her at all.

  • http://cinemmaconfessions.blogspot.com Gautam

    For me, The Ice Storm is a perspective on the seeming dichotomy yet the abundance of parallels between adults and adolescence. And this is evident from many scenes in the film. Ben himself is indulging an extra-marital affair but has problems with his daughters affair with Janey's son. Elena also has the habbit of stealing things from shops just like her daughter. When Elena sees her daughter ride a bike she also feels like doing the same. The underlying point is that even if we grow and become adults certain things under certain circumstances never change. We as adults might feel the responsibility to guide children but have we ever thought that are we perfect ? And if not than on what moral grounds can we instruct children to not indulge in activities which we might ourselves be indulging in, on a different level. As we mature, we are at some point confronted with the realization-- some sooner, some later-- that age and experience do not necessarily equate to satisfaction and personal identity in our lives, the two things we are all, though perhaps subconsciously, striving to attain. And towards climax after death of Janey's son, both Ben and Elena realize that as mature adults their petty desires [Ben wanted the sexual satisfaction whereas Elena the freedom] could have led to much worse results, and hence for the greater good they should live together. And that's why the ending is a new beginning of hope.

  • Lewis

    Has anyone mentioned the beautiful score? Is it a pan flute that's being played? The music adds a dimension to the narrative. Simply wonderful.

    • Ben Rosner

      I think it's a pan flute; it sounds very similar to the Picnic at Hanging Rock score.

  • Ben Rosner

    As someone who lives 20 minutes away from where this movie takes place (and for that matter, where it was filmed) it's amazing to see how little has changed. Downtown New Canaan still looks exactly the same as it did back in 1997. Anyways, the film itself is truly a masterpiece. The acting is superb. I find it interesting to see how the actors who have played the kids in the film (Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Tobey Maguire, Katie Holmes) have all grown up to become powerful forces in the film business. I feel that this is a film about karma. What you do wrong is going to come back and haunt you at the end. The example of this that shines the brightest is obviously the death of young Mikey. The ending of the film, however, truly is what makes this a picture to remember. Seeing the sadness and despair on Ben's face is one of the finer points of Kevin Kline's performance in this movie.

  • Ben Rosner

    Also, like Brad said, I found the parallels between the Fantastic Four and the plot to be interesting, especially in these days of nonstop superhero action flicks.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/HarryFuertes/ Harry Fuertes

    I enjoyed this film deeply. It was very powerful and atmospheric. The last 45 minutes are magnificent and in some ways it surpasses American Beauty, another film I love. The acting is great with the standouts being Sigourney Weaver, Christina Ricci, and Kevin Kline. The cinematography was subtly gorgeous without the "in your face" effect. But I never felt "blown away" by this film like I was with American Beauty. I never got chills or tears. Nonetheless, this film is great and I would definitely see it again. 8.5/10 or A-

    Now, in terms of discussion, this film does not even touch Picnic at Hanging Rock. But there are some nice little details I'd like to bring to light that I wrote down while watching. Most of them were in the first hour and deal with clothing.

    1. If you notice throughout the film, Christina Ricci's character wears a red hood when she goes out of her house. If you read Little Red Riding Hood as a kid, you know that a wolf stalks the poor child. What is this trying to say? Christina Ricci's character seems to be wanting attention like any other teenage girl. She channels Little Red, wanting boys to look at her. That is why she does the sneak a peek with the young boy in the bathroom. She wants to be understood. She never wears the red hood in the home.

    2. Like the above, I looked at the clothing throughout the film. In one scene, after the mother steals from the pharmacy, she is seen in the kitchen with a red sweater on with the design of a flying bird on the back. Does this symbolize her need to fly free of her contained adult life and do something dangerous?

    3. Once again, later in a scene shared with Elijah Wood, she wears a red and green sweater. Like Christmas. Is this her giving herself over to him, resulting in the near sex?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Adrianocrowbar/ Adriano

    This is one of my favourite films ever. I'll never forget the first time I saw it in the cinemas, in 1998.

    One of my favourite sub-genres, so to speak, is the "family falling apart". And The Ice Storm is the best among them all. I like the coldness of if (melodramatic is one of the last words I'd use to describe it), yet at the same time all the characters are flesh-and-blood ones, not stereotypes. To me this film is everything American Beauty wanted to be.

    Some of my thoughts about the film:

    In my opinion, everything comes down to sex. Both the adults and the kids' actions revolve around sex. This film couldn't have been settled in present day because today this sense of "exploring" doesn't exist anymore. Kids have the internet (with everything sexual it has to offer); parents don't need "key parties" to spice their sexual life. I'm not condemning present day or vice-versa, it's just the way things are.
    I love how the characters struggle with wanting to be sexual/sexually adventurous and being also innocent. Christina Ricci's character wants to be almost predatory, but after her father sees her with a boy she asks to be held. At that moment you remember she's practically a child (and Ricci's face works wonders with this dichotomy). And when she sleeps together with Adam Hann-Byrd, it's beautifully innocent.

    I don't know which character I identify the most with. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I like this movie so much: I can identify with bits of everyone. I can relate to everyone. I feel the most for poor Joan Allen's Elena, completely clueless - I was so sorry for her when Jamey Sheridan's character tells her in the car, "That was awful" (or something similar, I can't remember). It may be the hardest moment in the film.

    But the character that fascinates me the most is Sigourney Weaver's suburban femme fatale. She knows how far her beauty and charms will lead her; she has fun with it - notice how she gets the keys in the party scene. But she knows this doesn't lead into happiness. To me, the scene after the party when she comes come and lays down in her bed, in fetal position, shows how lonely she feels. And the fact that we don't actually see her reaction to the news that her son is dead is much more amazing (we don't see it, do we? The last thing I remember is her waking up to her husband screaming). I believe she totally lost it. Filed for divorce and left the city, maybe even without her other son.

    As for the ending, I couldn't stop crying. Maybe the family got stronger after everything that happened, but I could only feel that moment. It still leaves me devastated.

    • Ben Rosner

      I disagree with you highly that "exploring" doesn't exist anymore. Parents still have affairs all the time. Young teenagers still have sex. Yes, there is the internet nowadays, but that doesn't mean that teenage sex is nonexistent.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Adrianocrowbar/ Adriano

        I didn't mean that. I meant that "exploring" is not anymore something "fashionable" (for the grown-ups) or hidden (for the kids). As you said, parents have affairs, but there are no "new trends" such as the key party. As for kids, the internet is there for everything. Young neighbors are not the only object of desire anymore. That's why I think the film couldn't be set in present day. Or if it was, it'd be a completely different film.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/G-Man/ G-Man

    Nice writeup, Brad. I liked, but didn't love this movie. Couldn't believe I had never heard of it considering the loaded cast.

    Living in NYC and knowing individuals from the town where this movie takes place, New Canaan, CT, made the movie all that more interesting to me. Especially since I visited this town during and after a snowstorm a couple winters ago.

    Not sure if I could get into specifics without re-watching, but in hindsight, what's most impressive to me about the film is how they are able to have so many seemingly unrelated storylines that in some way, shape, or form all affect one or two characters, who then affect other characters in different storylines.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/IngmarTheBergman/ IngmarTheBergman

    What The Ice Storm does best is it displays people. A fairly general sample of people. People frozen in fear, embarrassment and utter confusion. My personal opinion of this film is yes, there is hope for everyone in the end. They have finally broken through the lack of emotion they've shown each other. They try so hard to blend in with the generation they've surrounded themselves in. They bury themselves in lies so their family cannot see who they truly are. They fear judgement. However - in the final scene after Mikey's death, Ben sits down in his car breaking down in tears. I don't feel I need to state that his tears are not for Ben's death, but everything else he's done. He's in need for a reason to cry. Ben has finally taken the first step. The rest of the family watches him, as if he's acting bizarre, as if expressing yourself is against the rules of their family. There's a sliver of hope because if Ben can break through, the others probably can as well.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Very nice write-up, thanks for adding.

  • tombeet

    The ending is quite open and I think it's not necessary be better for the family (or worse), it would just be very different, like they enter another stage of relationship (pretty much like the ending of In the Bedroom). It's a great ending that pretty conclude everything before it.

    I particularly see the kids have more tragic end than the adults. If Christina Ricci meets Elijah Wood that night, he should not have died. The incidents could leave a big scar in both Christina Ricci character and the younger brother.

    It works better with the 70s setting, when marriage, divorce, sexual relationship still quite a sensitive issues (at that time, divorce is still shocking and not as common as today).

    I feel most identify with Joan Allen character. I get the sense she's stuck, she wants to get out. I can understand why she does the way she does. The shoplifting scene is very sad and subtle.

    Originally I think the film could work better has Tobey character have sex/ rape Katie Holmes. It speaks more to the theme of the film (although it would be very disturbing)

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Not sure I could have handled that scene between Tobey and Katie, but it makes me wonder how the film would have played out had it left what happened up in the air. Perhaps hinting that "something" happened, but the audience not knowing what as Tobey runs to catch the train and perhaps sits down with a look on his face that could be interpreted any number of ways from "Oh no, what did I just do?" to "I made it, that was close." Could have been interesting.

  • Liathach

    I agree with Tombeet's last point. It's interesting that Ang Lee decided to make the Tobey Maguire character much more sympathetic than he is (so I understand) in the book. That changes the dynamic of the story because to me every other character is completely unsympathetic. They are all (the adults certainly) false and pretending to be something they're not. I think the use of Nixon reflects that. I thought the ghastly charade of the key party scene was absolutely brilliant. I also loved the scene where the Kline character is in bed with Weaver and he starts talking about his problems at the office and she says 'I'm not your wife.' For me there was a lot of black humour in it as well as pathos. I'm astonished that I can remember the movie this clearly considering I haven't seen it since it first came out. Must be good, then.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Based on all you remember it clearly stuck with you and may be deserving of a rewatch.

      Nice notes on the theme of the characters "pretending to be something they're not" against the consistent use of Nixon. It's a comparison that goes a long way.

      One of the things I really loved about this movie is how it can be used as a learning tool on how to look at why a filmmaker or writer chose certain things and what they mean.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JaneD/ JaneD

    I was surprised that I had never heard of this movie, as it is an excellent depiction of two dysfunctional families in the 1970s and it has such a wonderful cast. Every performance is stellar and the recreation of the era is spot on and nothing seems forced or extraneous. The story was emotionally devastating but I did find a glimmer of hope at the end.

    Curiously, though the family dynamics were agonizingly dysfunctional, there were little bits of humour in the film, which surprised me for such an emotionally weighty tale. As an example, I found Wendy’s rendition of Thanksgiving ‘grace’ hilarious.

    I was struck by the way Ang Lee played out the tragic scene in which Ben finds poor Mikey face down in the street. From Ben’s perspective, he sees a person bundled up in a red parka. The last time Ben had seen his own son, Paul, he was headed to the city in a red jacket. I believe that Ben’s initial fear was that it was Paul there in the road. When he realized that it wasn’t Paul, and he returned Mikey’s body home, I think there was a sense of relief that it wasn’t his own son. This is all part of what brought on Ben’s emotional collapse in the final scene of the movie. He realized how lucky he is. He is grateful that his family is physically intact. That is why I believe that there is an optimistic outlook for the Hood family.

    This has been another great film for discussion!