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Existentialist Analysis of the Ice Storm

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Existentialist Analysis of The Ice Storm
Jose Luis Coronado

PHL366
Professor Schwebel
November 3, 2015

Existentialist Analysis of The Ice Storm In Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, structures of authority are broken down through the portrayal of the film’s main characters. In the absence of traditional authoritative sources, the characters are unable to make sense of their lives. Examples of how authoritative structures are broken down are presented through how the Hood’s and Carver’s deal with being a family, and how the social relationships of the characters in the film define how they interact with one another. The absence of structure within families is evident through the affair that Ben and Janey are having. In addition, their families contribute to the lack of family structure – Jim has been away from for work, Paul is away for school, and Wendy remains distant from her family because of her opposing views and sexual behaviour. While the children’s contribution to the breakdown of family structure can be justified as trying to make sense of the lack of parental structure in their life, the contribution made by their parents are justified by the unhappiness in their current situations. Thus, they can choose to do things that breakdown a family, such as: have an affair like Ben and Janey, or bury themselves in work like Jim.
Kierkegaard’s social implication of ambiguity is parallel to the breakdown of structures of authority in the film. Where ‘ambiguity’ is seen as the tearing down of existing institutions in a reflective age and the deprivation of significance in things in a present age. Kierkegaard gives two examples of ambiguity in both ages: leaving Christian terminology in tact but no longer believing in it or living in it, and allowing an institution such as a monarchy to remain but taking away its authority. This same concept can be applied to better understand how structures of authority are broken down in the film. In the example regarding Christian terminology, Ben and Janey leave their marriages in tact but no longer live it. In the example with the monarchy, the families allow the institution of being a family to exist but take away it’s authority by being un-loyal and disconnected to them; Ben scolds Wendy for engaging in sexual activities but has no authoritative effect because he is a cheater.
During the discussion of Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground in the film, Libbets Casey suggests her interpretation of the text as choosing to do bad, since choosing to do good would be too rational, which according to Dostoevsky is the height of moral corruption. This statement from Libbets is a literal interpretation as she takes the text for literal word, she does not question nor challenge this concept. According to Dostoevsky, we would rather do destructive and chaotic things because they are considered unpredictable; we value our freedom so much that we are willing to switch from being rational and calculative. This understanding of freedom from Notes from the Underground help us to understand the ways in which the characters in the film enact their freedom because their actions are defined by the freedom to do the destructive. The characters choose to freely cheat on their spouses as is with Ben and Janey, corrupt their peers with sexuality as seen through Wendy, and do dangerous things like use explosives and play in an ice storm as with the Carver brothers. Perhaps the reason why the characters in the film have such destructive behaviour is not because they are bored and unhappy with their lives, but because they are no longer content with their situation so they choose to do something sporadic, like have an affair or live in the moment without rationality. This is the implication of Dostoevsky’s concept of freedom as the opposite of rational egoism, doing things that one knows has negative consequences but disregarding them and not thinking all the way. Along their path of destruction, the characters affect everyone else around them, resulting in a tragic ending to the film. Ironically, the destructive action by Mikey brought together the families in the end.…...

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