The Ice Storm (1997)

“In issue 141 of the Fantastic Four, published in November, 1973, Reed Richards had to use his anti-matter weapon on his own son, who Aannihilus has turn into the Human Atom Bomb. It was a typical predicament for the Fantastic Four, because they weren’t like other superheroes. They were more like a family. And the more power they had, the more harm they could do to each other without even knowing it. That was the meaning of the Fantastic Four: that a family is like your own personal anti-matter. Your family is the void you emerge from, and the place you return to when you die. And that’s the paradox – the closer you’re drawn back in, the deeper into the void you go.”

‘The Ice Storm’, directed by Ang Lee in 1997, is an American black comedy set in Connecticut during the Watergate scandal in 1973. It focuses on two affluent families: the first, mother and father Ben and Elena Hood, played by Kevin Kline and Joan Allen and their two children Paul and Wendy, played by Tobey Maguire and Christina Ricci, the second, Jim and Janey Carver and their children Mikey and Sandy. Ben is having an affair with the sexually open Janey, played by Sigourney Weaver, whilst his son is at boarding school and his daughter is discovering her own sexuality. The all gather for Thanksgiving as a winter storm approaches. The storm hits which Ben and Elena are at a swingers’ party, Paul is in New York on a disastrous date and Sandy decides to venture outside. It’s a movie that makes full use of the period trappings of the 1970s with a brown, muted colour scheme, a dated approach to sexual relations and a masculine approach to careers. In the background, televisions play out the Watergate hearings and the weather in the woodland and streets of the small town becomes colder and blustery. It’s a film that perfectly matches the incidental details with the increasingly tense relationships between the characters and with the theme of sexual liberation and discovery. The highlight of the film is when all of these elements come together in the cataclysmic storm, with scenes shot through with a downbeat sleaziness and a sense of impending doom. Lee balances this apocalyptic tension by focusing also on the natural beauty of the storm: on the icicles and frosted windows. In this way, his film manages to be both depressingly maudlin and upliftingly nostalgic, a balance that makes ‘The Ice Storm’ really distinctive.

Would I recommend it? Yes – possibly with ‘All the President’s Men’ as another way the Watergate scandal acted as an all pervasive televised background detail.


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