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The Ice Storm (1997)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

The ending of The Ice Storm is an impactful moment of character development, and the rest of the film contributes much toward that moment’s impact. However, there is much in the film’s path of exploration that tends to dwell on relational dysfunction in a way that simply hurts to watch. The film explores marital fidelity, parental control, parental lack of control, and parental reaction to their own behavior mirrored in teen children. Some characters long to find connection and care, while others simply play with peoples’ emotions. Some act out based on their hurt, others act out because they are just playing around. The metaphors and symbolism in The Ice Storm are well-crafted and multi-layered, which means that it takes work to catch them. The actors’ performances are generally strong — in particular, Joan Allen excellently portrays her character. The film is valuable and it points to a better way, yet viewers should understand going in that the majority of what The Ice Storm portrays on-screen is broken and dysfunctional. The light by which the film might help us to find goodness, truth, and beauty is, for the most part, outside the film itself. An undiscerning viewer could easily take some (not all) of what the film portrays as normative behavior rather than dysfunctional. Even a discerning viewer will have to spend some time reflecting on the film to let its multiple layers sink in to have their impact — the overall portrayal of painfulness and dysfunction, particularly among the teens in the film, dramatically increases the work required to come away from the film with something beautiful. That beautiful thing — which is a heart strengthened in faithfulness — is not much portrayed in the film, but it is the place to which the film propels me to run. Unless you plan to spend a good bit of time reflecting on the film afterwards — even better: unless you do so with a like-minded group of friends — I would place The Ice Storm toward the low side of your viewing priority list. In any case, the film is for the few, not the many.

Ben and Elena Hood have a typical suburban marriage: Two kids (one of whom is away at school), a nice house, dinner parties with other couples, strong controls and rules for the kids to conform to, they tried therapy but he didn’t think it did much good — still, they seem to get by. Yet perhaps Ben’s parental rules are a bit heavy-handed. The conversation at the dinner parties — with kids around — goes too far into some topics. In these adults, there is a restlessness and a fascination with unexplored areas that says something is missing for them. Ben, along with others, pursues his idea of what’s missing. The film explores how that works out for him — and for his wife and children. Running time: 112 min.

Marital fidelity is a major theme in The Ice Storm, and it extends this theme to include sexual exploration by teens. The film’s sexual encounters are neither strong nor graphic, though it is quite clear what has happened (or is happening). In most or all cases, what happens during a sex scene is significant to character development. Language is strong and sexual at times, and there is some drug abuse.

  • Director: Ang Lee
  • Screenplay: James Schamus, based on a Rick Moody novel
  • Leads: Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood
  • Cinematography: Frederick Elmes
  • Music: Mychael Danna


NOTE: Although Before viewing talks don't have spoilers, comments below MAY have spoilers
(spoilers are allowed in comments when a Before viewing talk does not have a corresponding After viewing talk for discussing the film)

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