RopeofSilicon Movie Club: ‘The Ice Storm’ (1997)

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.


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?


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 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.


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

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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