The Ice Storm (film)

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The Ice Storm
Ice storm poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ang Lee
Produced by Ang Lee
James Schamus
Ted Hope
Screenplay by James Schamus
Based on The Ice Storm 
by Rick Moody
Music by Mychael Danna
Cinematography Frederick Elmes
Edited by Tim Squyres
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release dates
  • May 12, 1997 (1997-05-12) (Cannes)
  • September 27, 1997 (1997-09-27)
Running time
113 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $18 million
Box office $8,038,061

The Ice Storm is a 1997 American drama film directed by Ang Lee, based on the 1994 novel of the same name by Rick Moody.

The film features an ensemble cast of Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, and Sigourney Weaver. Set during Thanksgiving 1973, The Ice Storm is about two dysfunctional New Canaan, Connecticut families who are trying to deal with tumultuous political and social changes of the early 1970s, and their escapism through alcohol, adultery, and sexual experimentation.

Upon the film's opening in the United States on October 31, 1997, its release was limited and grossed only US$8 million on a budget of US$18 million, making it a box office flop even though it garnered positive reviews. A new special two-disc DVD set was also released as a part of the Criterion Collection on March 18, 2008.[2]


At a dinner party at the Carvers' house, the adults discuss pop culture references that defined the 1970s: the Watergate scandal, swinging parties for married couples, and the pornographic film Deep Throat. The Hood family includes Ben, Elena, and their children, 16-year-old Paul and 14-year-old Wendy. Their neighbors, the Carvers, include Jim, Janey, and their children: Mikey and Sandy.

Ben, dissatisfied in his marriage and with the futility of his career, is having an affair with Janey. Elena is bored with her life and is looking to expand her thinking but is unsure of how to do so. Wendy enjoys sexual games with her school peers. Paul, an occasional drug user, is trying to bed his schoolmate Libbets Casey. Jim's sons are lonely and confused: Mikey plays along with Wendy's sexual games, while Sandy, obsessed with violence, also is attracted to Wendy.

Jim travels for his job and is, for the most part, not involved in his children's lives. In one scene he returns from a trip to find that his sons had not even realized he had been gone. Janey, who appears to be carrying on with a number of other men in addition to Ben, finds Jim to be largely an annoyance and would prefer he remain gone all the time. Elena buys spiritual and self-help books and becomes friendly with the hippie-ish minister of a local church. She is ultimately turned off by his subtle passes and his patronizing behavior towards her. Later she attempts to shoplift, but is caught in the act.

During their trysts, Ben obsesses to Janey over his displeasure with his job and his frustrations at continually being bested by his colleague, smarmy George Clair. Janey seems to have become bored with the arrangement since she has now become unfaithful, not only to her husband but to Ben as well. She abruptly leaves the room just prior to a planned sexual encounter with Ben, excusing herself to get "birth control" but instead flees the house leaving Ben alone.

Realizing that she is not returning, Ben prepares to leave but comes upon his daughter Wendy in the Carvers' basement initiating a sex act with Mikey (a few days previously, she had revealed her genitalia to Sandy). Ben then has an awkward discussion with Wendy about sex. Wendy is visibly bored with the conversation. Seeing this, he changes tack and tells her he's really not all that upset with her, except that he thinks that Mikey may not "be right" for her.

As the evening begins, a storm hits New Canaan which evolves into a dangerous ice storm.

When Ben reveals to Elena that he found Wendy in the Carvers' basement, she is more concerned with what he was doing there, eventually concluding (correctly) that he must be having an affair with Janey. They have a brief argument over it prior to attending a neighborhood party, which turns out to be a swinger's key party. Elena suspects that Ben was aware of the nature of the party and had plotted to mark his keys so Janey could fish them out. In her resentment, she decides to participate in the key party.

Concurrently, Paul has taken the train into Manhattan. Paul is excited that Libbets has invited him to visit her that evening. He tries to keep this a secret from his roommate, Francis (of whom he is not particularly fond), since he has the habit of bedding every girl he discovers Paul is attracted to. Paul is then disheartened to discover Francis has also been invited. The three listen to music and begin drinking and smoking marijuana. It becomes clear that Libbets is more responsive to Francis' direct advances than to Paul's subtler ones. Paul attempts to drug Francis with Libbets' mother's sleeping medication so that he will be out of commission for the evening, but Libbets also takes one of the pills. Francis passes out first. Libbets and Paul leave him to sleep it off on the floor and Paul tries to make his move on Libbets. He is visibly disappointed when she tells him that she only thinks of him "like a brother" before she too passes out.

Wendy decides to make her way to the Carvers' to see Mikey, but he has decided to go out into the ice storm, so she and Sandy climb into bed together and remove their clothes. They drink from a bottle of vodka and Wendy tries to seduce him; however, they both fall asleep.

As the key party progresses, Ben becomes drunk. When Janey chooses the keys of a handsome young man, Ben attempts to protest but trips and knocks his head on the coffee table, leading Jim to realize that his wife and Ben are having an affair. Ben, in his embarrassment, retreats to the bathroom where he remains for the rest of the evening. The remaining key party participants are paired off and leave together with only Jim and Elena remaining. She retrieves Jim's keys from the bowl and returns them to him. After debating the issue, Jim and Elena leave together, engaging in a quick, clumsy sexual encounter in the front seat of Jim's car. Jim, regretting the line he and Elena have just crossed, agrees to drive her home.

Meanwhile, Mikey, out walking in the storm, is enchanted by the beauty of the trees and fields covered in ice. He slides down an icy hill then sits on a guardrail to rest. A moment later a power line, broken by a fallen tree, connects with the guardrail and he is electrocuted.

Jim and Elena return to the Carvers' house as dawn is breaking. Elena walks in on her daughter in bed with Sandy and orders her to get dressed.

Janey had also returned home earlier and curled up on her bed in the fetal position without bothering to take off her party clothes. Although it is not revealed what transpired between Janey and her 'key partner', she is visibly exhausted and sad.

Ben has sobered up by this time and begins driving home. He discovers Mikey's body on the side of the road and carries it back to the Carvers' house. The two families are drawn together by Mikey's death and Wendy hugs the shocked and numbed Sandy in an attempt to comfort him. Jim is devastated while Janey remains asleep and ignorant to the recent events. Ben, Elena and Wendy then drive to the train station to pick up Paul who is returning from Libbets' apartment, his train delayed by the ice and the power failure caused by the downed wire. Once all four are together in the car, Ben breaks down, sobbing uncontrollably at the wheel as Elena starts comforting him.



The Ice Storm was first brought to the attention of producer James Schamus by his wife, literary scout Nancy Krikorian, who knew Rick Moody from Columbia University's MFA program. "It's an astonishingly cinematic book", says Schamus. "But, because of its truly literary qualities, people may have missed its extraordinary cinematic possibilities."[3] Philosopher Slavoj Žižek claims Schamus was also inspired by one of Žižek’s books at the time of writing the screenplay: "When James Schamus was writing the scenario, he told me that he was reading a book of mine and that my theoretical book was inspiration."[4]

Schamus brought the book to Ang Lee, who was the first and only contender for the book, and with whom Schamus and partner Ted Hope had already made four films, including The Wedding Banquet in 1993. Despite the obvious appeal of Moody's comedy of familial errors, Lee says what attracted him to the book was its climax: the scene where Ben Hood makes a shocking discovery in the ice, followed by the emotional reunion of the Hood family on the morning after the storm. "The book moved me at those two points", says Lee. "I knew there was a movie there."[3]

To prepare for the film, Lee let the cast members study stacks of magazine cutouts from the early 1970s. Moody was reportedly very pleased with the final version – and reportedly "sobbed" during the end credits.[citation needed] He also expressed his happiness that the success of the film brought more attention to his novel, leading to more book sales.


Film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both gave the film Two Thumbs Up, with Gene Siskel calling it the best film of the year, and Roger Ebert calling it Ang Lee's best film yet. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 84% based on reviews from 61 critics.[5]

The film was entered into the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, where James Schamus won the award for Best Screenplay.[6]

The film's release was limited, and it grossed just US$7.8 million against a production budget of US$18 million.[7]

For her performance, Sigourney Weaver received the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress and was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe.


Most of the professional music featured in the film was independently produced 1970s-type music, as budget values were tight. Lee and Schamus wanted to have an "actual score" — not a "nostalgic film with radio music of an earlier time".[8] The soundtrack was first released in the United States on October 21, 1997.

Home media[edit]

Following the theatrical exhibition of The Ice Storm, the film was made available on home video by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on October 13, 1998. A re-issued VHS was released on September 5, 2000. The film made its DVD debut on March 13, 2001 before American distribution company Criterion acquired the rights to release a 2-disc DVD edition on March 8, 2008. Criterion released this version in a Blu-ray release on July 23, 2013.[9]


  1. ^ "THE ICE STORM (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 1998-01-21. Retrieved 2012-12-02. 
  2. ^ The Criterion Collection: The Ice Storm by Ang Lee, Retrieved on August 8, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "The Ice Storm". Fox Searchlight. Retrieved 2012-08-02. .
  4. ^ YouTube Retrieved 27 September 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ The Ice Storm at Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved on October 29, 2011.
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Ice Storm". Retrieved September 21, 2009. 
  7. ^ The Ice Storm at Box Office Mojo
  8. ^ Rick Moody, The Ice Storm (Little Brown & Co, 1994) p. 279, ISBN 0-316-57921-1.
  9. ^ "The Ice Storm". Criterion. Retrieved 8 July 2013. 
  • Pennington, Jody W. (2007). The history of sex in American film. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 152, 158–159, 168–172. ISBN 0-275-99226-8. 

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