- Movie Rating -

Iceman (1984)

| April 13, 1984

Iceman is the movie that I wanted from Greystoke.  It’s movie that I wanted from The Thing.  Let’s face it, this is the kind of movie that I want from a lot of movies and almost never get.  This is the rare case of intelligent science fiction that doesn’t depend on phenetics or cower under the fear of what its patient approach may do to the box office.  It is an intelligent film, made with a sense of wonder. 

The movie opens with a scene that would be familiar to a lot of cheap horror movies.  A group of scientists in the Arctic pull up an enormous chunk of ice and we can see, the very vague outlines of something that looks familiar – there is a man trapped in this block who seems to have been there for some 40,000 years.  The way that this block of ice is opened and the way that the man is revealed is not done with the urgency of a medical show.  It is the rare case of a movie that reveals its hand slowly, we can really feel the joy of discovery.  When the man is freed from the ice, he seems to be reaching for something.

Of course, this discovery is nothing new.  Prehistoric bodies have been found for decades flash-frozen so quickly that their internal organs seem to have been put on pause, but of course the muscle tissue has deteriorated.  The scientists want to do an autopsy, but an Anthropologist named Shepard (Timothy Hutton) believes that the man can be resuscitated.  Could a man have survived?  Well, there’s a theory at work in this movie that is theoretically possible.  It’s actually kind of clever.

Where the movie takes this idea is really amazing.  Instead of being one of those tired movies with the uber-rich hard-headed scientists versus the guy with the hippie code of patience and understanding, there is a sense that everyone is interested in this man, not as a specimen to be cut up but as a man to be studied – of course, there is the battle between those who are interested in his anatomy and those who are interested in the person, but it isn’t treated in a tiresome way.  It is debated with intelligence.

The man – whose name they deduce through his guttural language as “Charlie” – is placed in a special natural environment better to match his origins (very quickly he realizes the ruse).  Slowly, Shephard makes attempts to connect with this frightened man, teach him to communicate and help him understand the world the baffling 20th century world to which he has awakened.

The movie was directed by Fred Schepisi, an Australian filmmaker whose work I have come to greatly admire.  He made The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith about an Aborigine man accused of murder and a terrific but forgotten western named Barbarossa with Willie Nelson.  His films seem to be about men out of place, but more importantly Schepisi sees his films as more than just the surface plot.  He sees things, considers things, makes us think about the people we are seeing.  He is known for his cut-aways, and in this film there is a doozy.  After Charlie is discovered Schepisi cuts away to the icy landscape where he was found and we see other mounds of ice out there, and we wonder about what other men and women could be revived.  I began to have fantasies about the scientists reviving an entire culture of prehistoric people and learning more about the origins of this planet.  Schepisi was doing an interesting thing: He was expanding my mind beyond the film to consider the wider scope.

What impressed me most was the direction that the movie takes in its second half.  Instead of having it be a legal battle over Charlie or have him try to fit into modern civilization, the movie considers the journey that Charlie was taking.  There is a spiritual nature to the closing passages of this movie that I found tremendously moving.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Drama