About the Story
Rick Moody's scathingly witty novel of the Seventies, The Ice Storm, was published in April of 1994. Reminders were not long in coming that the era it portrayed was now part of history: the month of May began with the death of Richard Nixon, who is virtually a character in the book, and ended with the death of Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of another president whose name is never mentioned, although the events the book recounts take place on November 23, 1973 -- the day after the tenth anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination.
Moody's first book, Garden State: A Novel, about dazed and confused New Jersey teens, had won the prestigious Puschcart Press Editors' Book Award. The Ice Storm, which was set in the author's home town at the time he was growing up, portrayed parents and children alike floundering in the backwash of the Sexual Revolution. It also received an enthusiastic critical reception.
The Ice Storm was 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."
Schamus showed the book to Ang Lee with whom he and partner Ted Hope had already made four films. Despite the obvious appeal of Moody's comedy of familial errors for the creator of "The Wedding Banquet," 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."
Lee signed on to make the film and it fell to Schamus, while he and Lee were in England making "Sense and Sensibility," to turn Moody's very literary novel into a screenplay that would serve the director's purposes. (Lee and Schamus had previously worked together on the writing of Lee's first three films, "Pushing Hands," "The Wedding Banquet" and "Eat Drink Man Woman.")
"The Ice Storm," which is set in the High Seventies, is a period piece like Ang Lee's previous film: an adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility that was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won for Emma Thompson's screenplay. "I felt this was just the opposite of 'Sense and Sensibility,'" Lee says. "In 'Sense and Sensibility' the social code wants you to be rational and good, and the characters want to be bad; in 'The Ice Storm' the social code wants you to be bad, and actually they're not so bad after all -- they still want to be good."
In other ways, "The Ice Storm" is a new departure for the filmmaker. In Lee's first three films the characters are breaking with old ways, but the values of tradition are movingly embodied by the wise, dignified father played in each film by Sihung Lung. (Lee jokingly refers to those films as his "Father Knows Best" trilogy.) "Wise" and "dignified," however, are hardly the words to describe "The Ice Stormís" befuddled anti-hero Ben Hood, or any of the other parents in the film who are too preoccupied with their own need for "self-realization" to set an example for their children.
"The structure of society is breaking down more in this film than in my early films," Lee says. "The situation is more chaotic. The whole nation is in an adolescent period, experimenting with new things, new rules -- even the adults are behaving like adolescents."
"At the same time, the period portrayed is innocent and good because people are rebelling against old rules and the old order. The concept of the New Age looks a little funny today, but the characters in the film are reaching out for something. We're jaded now, while the people of that era were very fresh and bold about reaching for their limits."
"What they encounter in the process is human nature, and the ice storm, which gives you a little more respect for Nature. It turns out that we're not that free after all."
James Schamus says that writing the screenplay for "The Ice Storm" was an exercise in double vision. "On the one hand," he says, "I saw it very much from the kids' point of view. I myself grew up in the Ď70s. All the growing pains the kids are going through in 'The Ice Storm' are still with us in the young adults of the generation that grew up in the Seventies. On the other hand, I'm a parent, so I was really looking at it from the point of view of their parents, who are experiencing, through the force and pressure of what's happening in society, many of the same things as the kids."
"The movie makes parallels between the parents' and the kids' behavioral patterns," says Ang Lee. "Like father, like son; like mother, like daughter." Those parallels, which underlie and shape the seemingly chaotic events in Moody's novel are preserved -- accentuated, in fact -- by Schamusí screenplay. "To see your father cry is one of the most frightening, but ultimately moving things you can experience," says Lee. At the symbolic center of the rapidly warping social landscape, in the film as in the novel, are Richard Nixon's televised addresses to the nation and the Watergate Hearings, which offer ongoing proof that the nationís ultimate father figure has been lying.