Sat, 04 Nov 2000

'Ice Storm' portrays psyche of 1970s America

By Tam Notosusanto

JAKARTA (JP): Some of us take the '70s for granted. It's a decade that happened not too long ago, a period that a lot of us lived through. Some of us were even born or grew up in it.

But the movies are constantly reminding us now that the '70s is indeed a page of history past, way, way past. And what an interesting period it was.

People in the '70s looked, moved, dressed, acted and thought in ways that were radically different from the way people do today. Films such as The Brady Bunch Movie, which was based upon the legendary TV series, punctuates the fashion and the eccentricities of the '70s that somehow make the Brady family seem as if they came from another planet.

More movies of the '90s like 54, the Austin Powers series or Quentin Tarantino films, look at the decade with certain amazement and admiration. There's even now a popular U.S. TV series called That '70s Show.

The Ice Storm is another '90s film that treats the '70s as a curio shop object. With its detailed attention to the clothes, hairdos and the overall look of the era, this film is as much a period costume drama as a film set in Victorian England.

Incidentally, the director, Ang Lee, made it after he directed Sense and Sensibility, the movie version of Jane Austen's 19th century novel.

But the Ice Storm brings us beyond the bell bottoms, the sideburns and the enormous lapels. Adapted from Rick Moody's 1994 novel, the film goes deep into the psyche of 1973 America, the time of subtle transformations when norms and values are questioned and the society had just been shaken up by feminism and the sexual revolution.

We are taken into this setting by two suburban families living in the fictional town New Canaan, Connecticut. Ben and Elena Hood (Kevin Kline and Joan Allen) look just like a typical white middle-class couple, with their picture-perfect family: their doe-eyed son, Paul (Tobey Maguire) and raven-haired daughter Wendy (Christina Ricci). They are good friends with the Carver family, Jim and Janey (Jamey Sheridan and Sigourney Weaver) and their two sons, Mikey and Sandy (Elijah Wood and Adam Hann-Byrd).

Behind this apparently perfect world, however, there are pain and dark secrets. Ben is having an affair with the eccentric Janey. Jim seems to know about this but is helpless under his more dominant wife. Elena, the seemingly perfect mother and housewife, goes shoplifting in her spare time.

Their children are in a more extreme state of confusion and curiosity. Fourteen-year-old Wendy looks for opportunities to taste alcohol and to have her first sexual encounter with a boy. Meanwhile, fourteen-year-old Mikey is a math and science genius who has trouble communicating normally with other people. His younger brother Sandy is a pyromaniac who devises new ways to destroy things daily. Wendy's brother Paul, perhaps the most normal of all, is into experimenting with drugs with his high school friends.

The story and the specific setting may not seem like the obvious directing choice for the Taiwanese-born Lee. But the man behind art-house hits such as The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman has proved with both Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm that he is comfortable tackling 19th century England and 1970s America as he is with present-day Taiwanese society (After The Ice Storm, Lee directed the Civil War drama Ride with the Devil before going back into Chinese culture with his latest, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

Even though this 1997 winner of the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival and a Golden Globe nomination for Sigourney's Weaver performance only arrived here three years after its original release, its single screening at the Jakarta International Film Festival this Sunday is well worth the wait.