The Ice Storm (film)

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The Ice Storm
The Ice Storm (film).png
Film poster
Directed byAng Lee
Screenplay byJames Schamus
Based onThe Ice Storm
by Rick Moody
Produced byTed Hope
James Schamus
Ang Lee
CinematographyFrederick Elmes
Edited byTim Squyres
Music byMychael Danna
Distributed by20th Century Fox (United States and Canada)
Buena Vista International (International)[1][2]
Release dates
  • May 12, 1997 (1997-05-12) (Cannes)
  • September 27, 1997 (1997-09-27) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$18 million
Box office$8 million

The Ice Storm is a 1997 American drama film directed by Ang Lee, based on Rick Moody's 1994 novel of the same name. The film features an ensemble cast of Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes, Glenn Fitzgerald, Jamey Sheridan, and Sigourney Weaver. Set during Thanksgiving 1973, The Ice Storm is about two dysfunctional New Canaan, Connecticut, upper-class families who are trying to deal with tumultuous social changes of the early 1970s, and their escapism through alcohol, adultery, and sexual experimentation.

The film opened in the United States on September 27, 1997. Its limited release ultimately grossed US$8 million on a budget of US$18 million. Critical response to the film was positive, and it was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. Schamus received the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay, and Weaver won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.


Set over Thanksgiving weekend, 1973, the film centers around two families:

  • the Hoods (Ben and Elena and their children, Paul and Wendy)
  • their neighbors, the Carvers (Jim and Janey, and their children, Mikey and Sandy)

Ben Hood (dissatisfied in his marriage, and with the futility of his career) is having an affair with Janey Carver. His wife, Elena, is bored with her own life, and looking to expand her thinking (though unsure of how to do so). The young Wendy Hood enjoys sexual games with the Carver boys and with her school peers. Paul Hood has fallen for Libbets, a classmate, at the boarding school he attends. (His roommate Francis is also interested in her.)

On the Friday night after Thanksgiving, the Hoods have an argument, upon her learning of his affair with Janey. Nevertheless they go ahead with their plans to attend a neighborhood party. It turns out to be a "key party", in which married couples "swap" sexual partners, by means of each woman selecting a set of keys, from a bowl to which each man has contributed one set.

Jim and Janey Carver also are there; as the party progresses, Ben becomes drunk. Janey chooses the keys of a handsome young man. This surprises Ben and he trips, knocking his head on the coffee table. In his embarrassment, he retreats to the bathroom, remaining there for the rest of the evening.

The other key-party participants are paired off and leave, until only Jim and Elena remain. 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 that he and Elena have just crossed – offers to drive her home.

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

Paul is invited to Libbets' apartment in Manhattan, though upon arriving, is disappointed to learn that Francis was also invited. The three drink beer and listen to music; Francis and Libbets also take prescription pills found in Libbets' mother's medicine cabinet, causing them, eventually, to pass out. Paul decides to leave, and just narrowly makes the train to New Canaan.

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 is broken by a falling tree, and connects with the guardrail, electrocuting him.

Jim and Elena also become stuck, due to a downed tree, and return to the Carvers' house as dawn is breaking; Elena walks in on her daughter and Sandy in bed, and tells her to get dressed; Janey returns home; curling up in the fetal position, on her bed, still in her party clothes.

Ben, having sobered up by this time, 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 oblivious to the recent events. Ben, Elena, and Wendy then drive to the train station to pick up Paul, whose train was delayed by the ice and by 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 comforts him while Paul watches with no emotions.



The Ice Storm was first brought to the attention of producer James Schamus by his wife, literary scout Nancy Kricorian, who knew Rick Moody from Columbia University's MFA program. Schamus has said, "It's an astonishingly cinematic book... But, because of its truly literary qualities, people may have missed its extraordinary cinematic possibilities."[3] Philosopher Slavoj Žižek has stated that Schamus was also inspired by one of Žižek's books[which?] 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 filmmaker Ang Lee, who was the first and only contender to turn the book into a film, 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 stated that 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.


The film's release was limited, and it grossed US$7.8 million against a production budget of US$18 million.[5]

Film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film "Two Thumbs Up", with Ebert calling it Lee's best work yet, and Siskel calling it his favorite film of 1997. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 86% based on 70 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The site's consensus reads: "Director Ang Lee revisits the ennui-laden decadence of 1970s suburban America with deft humor and gripping pathos".[6] Andrew Johnston, writing in Time Out New York, stated: "The 1970s have long been written off as a goofy embarrassment to our country, quite possibly because the actual details of the decade are too painful to us to remember, no matter how old or young we were at the time. Ang Lee's film of Rick Moody's novel cuts through the kitsch to explore the emotional black hole at the heart of the period, the result being an utterly devastating and truly adult drama of the first order."[7]

The film was entered into the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, where James Schamus won the award for Best Screenplay.[8] He was nominated for three other awards: Best Screenplay – Adapted at the 51st British Academy Film Awards, Best Adapted Screenplay at the 50th Writers Guild of America Awards, and Best Screenplay, Adapted at the 2nd Golden Satellite Awards. For her performance, Weaver received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture at the 55th Golden Globe Awards, and a Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture nomination. She won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The Film won the Bodil Award for Best American Film in 1999.[9]


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".[10] The soundtrack was 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 special 2-disc DVD edition as part of the Criterion Collection on March 18, 2008.[11] Criterion released this version in a Blu-ray format on July 23, 2013.[12]


  1. ^ a b "The Ice Storm". Danish Film Institute. Retrieved July 9, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "THE ICE STORM (15)". British Board of Film Classification. January 21, 1998. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "The Ice Storm". Fox Searchlight. Retrieved August 2, 2012..
  4. ^ criterioncollection (September 26, 2014). "Slavoj Žižek - DVD Picks". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  5. ^ The Ice Storm at Box Office Mojo
  6. ^ The Ice Storm at Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved on September 30, 2022.
  7. ^ Johnston, Andrew (October 2, 1997). "The Ice Storm". Time Out New York: 70.
  8. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Ice Storm". Retrieved September 21, 2009.
  9. ^ Denmark's National Association of Film Critics
  10. ^ Rick Moody, The Ice Storm (Little Brown & Co, 1994) p. 279, ISBN 0-316-57921-1.
  11. ^ "The Ice Storm". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  12. ^ "The Ice Storm". Criterion. Retrieved July 8, 2013.


  • Pennington, Jody W. (2007). The history of sex in American film. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 152, 158–159, 168–172. ISBN 978-0-275-99226-2.

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