The difference between adolescence and adulthood can be defined in terms of years or age, but when it comes right down to it, the only real difference is in the experiences the added years provide. As we mature, we are at some point confronted with the realization-- some sooner, some later-- that age and experience do not necessarily equate to satisfaction and personal identity in our lives, the two things we are all, though perhaps subconsciously, striving to attain. But it's an elusive butterfly we're chasing; and at a certain age, the lack of fulfillment in one's life may be dismissed out-of-hand by some as a midlife crisis in a feeble attempt to justify certain actions or attitudes. Attaching such a label to it, however, is merely simplifying a state of being that seems to be perpetually misunderstood, and we resort to using psychological ploys on ourselves in order to rationalize away behavior that is often unacceptable in the cold light of reason and morality. This, of course, is not a unique situation, but an inevitable step one takes upon reaching an age at which the awareness of mortality begins to set in, which is something we all have to deal with in our own way, in our own time. And it's an issue that lies allegorically at the heart of director Ang Lee's pensive, insightful drama, `The Ice Storm,' in which we discover that-- more often than not-- the adult we become is nothing more than an extension of the adolescent; we may shed the skin of youth, but the awkward confusion and uncertainty remains, albeit manifested in different ways, to which for awhile we may respond in opposition even to our own conscience, creating a double standard in our lives which only serves to exacerbate the confusion and unhappiness, leaving us alone to face the cold and frozen landscapes of our own soul.
Working from an insightful and intelligent screenplay by James Schamus (who also wrote Lee's `Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and `Eat Drink Man Woman,' among others), Lee has crafted and delivered a lyrical and poetic-- though somewhat dark-- film that tells the story of two neighboring families living in Connecticut in the early 70s: Ben and Elena Hood (Kevin Kline and Joan Allen) and their children, Paul (Tobey Maguire) and Wendy (Christina Ricci); and Jim and Janey Carver (Jamey Sheridan and Sigourney Weaver) and their children, Mikey (Elijah Wood) and Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd). And it's a story to which many will be able to relate on a very personal, individual level, as it reflects an issue common to us all-- that of trying to make a tangible connection with someone or something in our life that we can hold on to and take comfort in. Ben and Elena have grown apart; she has distanced herself emotionally and sexually from Ben, and unfulfilled, she longs again for the freedom of her spent youth, while Ben seeks solace in an emotionally vapid but physically satisfying relationship with another woman. Jim, who spends much of his time on the road, has become completely disconnected from his entire family; his children are apathetic to his very presence, and Janey exists in a constant state of promiscuous numbness, yet cold and indifferent to her own husband.
The Hood and Carver children, meanwhile, are suffering the pains of adolescence and trying to figure out the world in which they live, exploring their feelings with and for one another and attempting to understand the whys and wherefores of it all. And to whom can they turn for guidance in an era that's giving them Nixon and Watergate, new age spiritualism and self-absorbed parents who teach one thing and do another?
The story unfolds through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Paul, whose meditations on the literal and figurative ice storm that descends upon the two families over a long Thanksgiving weekend forms the narrative of the film. And it's through Paul's observations that Lee so subtly and effectively presents his metaphor, in which he captures the beauty, as well as the ugliness, that inexplicably coexists within and which surrounds the turbulence and turmoil of the Hood's and Carver's world, which is ultimately visited by tragedy as their drama proceeds to it's inevitable climax. It's sensitive material that will undoubtedly touch a nerve with many in the audience, and Lee takes great care to present it accordingly, with a studied finesse that makes it an emotionally involving and thoroughly engrossing drama.
Lee also knows how to get the best out of his actors, and there are a number of outstanding and memorable performances in this film, beginning with that of Kevin Kline. Kline does comedy well, but he does drama even better, as he proves here with his portrayal of Ben. The final scene of the film, in fact, belongs to Kline, as it is here that we discover the true nature of the man he is in his heart of hearts. It's a superb piece of acting, and one of the real strengths of the film.
Joan Allen also turns in a strong performance through which she reveals the insufferable inner conflict that so affects Elena's life, and especially her relationship with Ben. And it's in Allen's character, more than any of the others, that we see how fine the line is between the adult and the adolescent. It is not unusual to find a bit of the mother in the daughter; but Allen shows us through Elena just how much of the daughter is actually in the mother, which underscores one of the basic tenets of the film. It's a performance that should've earned Allen an Oscar nomination at the very least.
Also turning in performances that demand special attention are Maguire, Ricci, Wood and especially Jamey Sheridan, whose portrayal of Jim is one of his best-- it's believable, and totally honest. Penetrating and incisive, `The Ice Storm' is remarkably poignant and absorbing; without question, it's one of Lee's finest films. 10/10.