CHRIS: The Ice Storm (Lee, US, 1997)

“Dear Lord, thank you for this Thanksgiving holiday. And for all the material possessions we have and enjoy. And for letting us white people kill all the Indians and steal their tribal lands. And stuff ourselves like pigs, even though children in Asia are being napalmed.”

– Wendy Hood (Christina Ricci)

The production design and Art direction for THE ICE STORM is absolutely sublime.

The period details of America in 1973 are brilliantly recreated in chilling hues. Lee had collaborated with screenwriter Jame Schamus on the adaptation of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995) and he applied the same assured use of the setting to show the distances between the characters and their measured movement within the space they inhabit. The split level house, water bed and glass walls are almost a characters themselves, or at least, counterpoints for us to measure the characters within the film.

Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) and his neighbour Janey Carver (Signourney Weaver) are having a fling under the knowing-nose of his wife Elena (Joan Allen). Against this back drop, the children are struggling to understand their sexual relationships. Wendy Hood (Ricci) attempts to seduce Sandy Carver (Adam Hann-Byrd) in a uncomfortable ‘you show me yours and I’ll show you mine’ encounter. Meanwhile, out of town, Paul Hood is attempting to engage in a relationship with Libbets Casey (Katie Holmes).

Layered within the story of the swinging and the sex there is a comment about how unsatisfied human relationships are in the context of the end of the 60s where the promises of free-love are turning sour. If there is a message about morality, then its not very explicit, as it is more engaged with the characters and their responses to their context.

The staging of the actual ice storm that sends a chill across the community is brilliant; as is ‘the shocking event’ that draws the family together. The dazzling effects of CROUCHING  TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000) and HULK (2003) (you won’t like me when I’m Ang Lee) do not match the beautiful horror of Mikey Carver’s (Elijah Wood) journey across the ice.

I find this period of American culture fascinating. Nixon, Vietnam and the oil crisis created a fissure of in the self-confidence of a nation. Lee brings together flawless design with delicate direction to create a stunning drama that lingers, with an icy chill.

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