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Movie Reviews

The Ice Storm  

A few days ago I read a user comment on the Internet Movie Database which said this movie was a failure because it obviously came from a conservative point of view, and that such conservatism was "sick". These viewers must have been offended by a movie that actually tries to say that such liberal movements from the 1960`s and 70`s may not have been so great after all. They apparently forgot to appreciate the film for at least trying something which doesn't usually get said too often in the movies, which is that indulgence may feel good in the short term, but comes with a price.

The story takes place in the 1970`s during the era of sexual revolution and drug experimentation. The focus is mainly on one family (Kevin Kline and Joan Allen as the parents, Christina Ricci and Tobey Macquire as the kids) who on the outside seem very average. But nowadays, no family depicted anywhere is average. Dysfunction and detachment exist throughout. First off, the husband is having an affair with the neighbor's wife (Signorey Weaver). The wife, in turn, feels constrained by her marriage, and wishes she was free. The daughter is a bold sexual experimenter who, in one surprising scene in her neighbors bathroom, bluntly tells their youngest son "I`ll show you mine if you show me yours." The son, probably the most squeaky-clean of them all, only manages to have an interest in Fantastic Four comic books and discouragement that he's still a virgin at 16.

In leisurely fashion, we see the activities of all these individuals, and their attempts at any form of happiness or excitement. Since none of these people have any sense of morals or guidance, they sleepwalk their way through life, searching only for cheap thrills and personal gratification. It is indicative of how deep the detachment in this society is, when even a minister, of the long-haired new agey variety, is depicted as alienated from the morals which he should be ministering. Like the flock, the shepherd also views life in an individualistic, subjective way. He is in fact one of the guests in a key party, a game where guests put their car keys in a bowl, and whomever key one picks up at the end is the person that lucky guy or gal goes home with.

The key party is a crucial event, because it is one of the major examples the writers use in defense of their argument. Such impersonal sexual role-playing and, in most cases, wife and husband swapping is impossible to maintain for it only brings about jealousy, heartbreak, and disappointment. Kline, in a drunken jealousy, cannot stand to see Weaver`s character going home with someone else. He, like the other guests, try to maintain a casual coolness and good humor around something which is emotionally dangerous, and spiritually draining. And while the guests act as if this sort of sexual experimentation would be awesome, it certainly isn't so in private in a good scene involving Allen's character and the neighbor. Such things only create disappointment and guilt.

Another important theme in this movie is the influence of these 70`s hipsters on their children. The sexual experimentation and coldness manifests itself on impressionable teenagers, most vividly with Ricci`s character, who is blunt and heartless in her verbal expression when it comes to sex. We see seances where she and other 13/14 year old girls talk about fillatio in vulgar ways. And of course, I've already mentioned the scene in the bathroom. Another scene is absolutely priceless and hilarious. She dons a rubber Nixon mask before saying how far she will go in "messing around" with the neighbor's oldest son, when they are (they believe) alone in the house. The mask stays on even as they fidget with each other's zippers. All I can say is that it was probably difficult not to laugh on the set. Perhaps the Nixon references are important. Just as Nixon, the president of the United States, lied to his people, therefore undermining the sacredness of the institution he represents, the parents generation "lied" to the children. The parents pretend to uphold the ideals of family, yet underneath they are corrupt, and this lying and hypocrisy is scarring the children.

The movie is conservative, without a doubt. I think it is saying what many people like to say; that children ultimately get their behaviors from their parents. It is very ironic when Kline bursts out in front of Ricci and the boy for their fooling. Why is Kline in the neighbor's house! He's waiting for the neighbor's wife to get home, that's why. So he is even worse than his daughter is. The daughter is only doing what comes naturally. And if parents are detached in their own relationships, it's only natural that the kids feel very detached as well. When Weaver's character comes home to find her youngest son blowing up his toys (sounds like another Littleton case to me!), she angrily wonders how the oldest son and Ricci could not have heard anything. They are too entranced by the television to care. The only expression of a true coming together comes at the end, and even that is cramped, for it is something no one in this movie had ever comprehended. And this can only come after a family tragedy. While I`m not quite so sure that this movie is entirely convincing in its belief that a greater personal freedom results ultimatly in destruction and family breakdown (I guess I just don`t want to sound like a crazy right-winger) it certainly gives one something to think about, like it or not.

The surrounding elements help to convey the sense of coldness and doom which accompanies this kind of lifestyle(s). Flutes, chimes and xylophones encompass the soundtrack giving a haunting and reflective feeling. The title of the movie refers to an actual event near the end, and like that ice storm, these lives are cold and stiff, with no true warmth. And those ice storms contain the potential for disaster and tragedy, if one doesn't watch out.

This is the kind of movie "inexperienced" viewers will dismiss, because all they will see is a bunch of pathetic people doing pathetic and depressing things. Those viewers will insist there is "nothing" going on, there is no story, (they don't say it's a bad story, but that there is none at all) and the characters involved on it are disgusting. I wonder sometimes what their definition of "story" is, and even more so, how they define a non-disgusting character. Do you really think that an action-hero, who massacres many people (bad guys, sure, but still.....) for the enjoyment of the audience, is really that good of a person. And, apparently, a story is only a story if it has the right number of exciting events, in the proper order, and with a happy ending. This shows how little many viewers know or care about movies. They are unwilling to tolerate very much in the endless creative variations. And in a way, those viewers, in unwilling to accept stories which try to understand the human condition, are nearly as distant as the people in this movie, and that`s unfortunate.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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