Analysis of Micro Elements of the Opening Sequence of The Ice Storm
The scene opens with a panning shot of some train tracks. It is dark outside and the tracks are icy. There is low key lighting used. This lighting reflects slightly off the ice giving an edgy feel to the opening. The camera continues to pan along the tracks, finally coming to the train, which appears to be frozen over. The whole train is dark and eerie. These first few seconds of the film just from lighting and mise-en-scene alone give the impression to the audience that something is not quite right. An instant enigma occurs…
Why is the train not moving? After a few seconds the train begins to move. This act in itself is quite an unnerving thing to watch and hear. The ice cracks, reminding me of the sound of when u tread on a pond to go skating and the ice isn’t quite strong enough, it has connotations of plunging into freezing cold water and struggling to swim out. The train is powered from overhead cables and as these start to move great sparks are sent off and the sound of cables twanging can be heard in the background.
These images and sounds also have strong connotations of abnormality and some kind of danger. The shot changes to inside the train and we see one of the major characters (Ben Hood). He is sitting on the train looking cold and slightly lonely. He is reading a “Fantastic Four” comic in the very dim light. He begins a voice over explaining quite mystically about his family. In the background we can hear the sound of the lights being switched on in the train. They are bright overhead strip lights and give a startling contrast to the previous shot.
He continues to talk. The music in the first scene of this film, I think, gives a good insight into the rest of the film. Right from the very start there is non-digetic music which sounds like some kind of pipes. It is a very slow mournful tune, yet quiet and quite calming, it is also sorrowful. It makes me feel saddened, as if people are mourning the loss of someone. Some digetic sound comes in then as the train begins to move, the crunching of ice and the sounds of the overhead cables as I have mentioned before now come in.
These sounds are repeated several times in the film, the most memorable time being when electricity cables electrocute a young boy. Then more non-digetic music begins, this time a piano. This music is also slow and sorrowful. There are some other interesting aspects of mise-en-scene in this opening scene of the film. At one point Ben is attempting to look out of the window, but it is totally iced over and he cannot see out of it. The cloudy affect of the ice on the window has connotations of not being able to see clearly.
This characters vision is clouded and he is not able to see everything that is going on. This is reflected later in the film when he doesn’t see what is happening to his parents. His whole world falls apart and he is unable to see any of it. A few seconds later it is daylight and the train is pulling into the station. Although it is daylight there is no warmth in the light. It is frosty outside and the greeting he receives from his family is equally as cold, he steps off the train to see them standing in a small huddle (mother, father and sister).
None of them are smiling. It is as if from the start things are destined to go wrong and this is reflected in the sombre expressions on their faces. The entire opening scene of this film has the feel that something is amiss in this character’s life. There is nothing obviously wrong with the scene, it appears quite ordinary, but underneath the surface many things are wrong. This scene sets up the feel for the entire film, giving an edgy feel, where things are not always as they seem and nothing is ever “normal”.
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