In The Door in the Floor (2004) an intern works for a charismatic children’s writer whose apparent success hides a traumatic family event, and in The Ice Storm (1997) a family faces up to the consequences of infidelity and sexual experimentation. Both these stories examine family bonds, passive-aggressive behaviour, and dysfunctional relationships.
Where The Door in the Floor covers the aftermath of a family tragedy, one it’s unable to heal from, The Ice Storm examines the run up to a disaster. The Door in the Floor like Manchester by the Sea is about individuals who have been emotionally damaged by a horrendous experience. The stories in The Ice Storm and American Beauty (1999) lead-up to an impending disaster. They are tragedies in the making, with a feeling of inevitable doom — and allude to a wider moral decline. The lies and immorality that takes place within the families portrayed in The Ice Storm are contextualised against a backdrop of ethical collapse that characterised the Nixon presidency.
Both stories feature Middle Class families who are distanced from one another by their inability to communicate about their feelings. These unspoken emotions manifest themselves negatively in: frustration, rows, depression, alcohol abuse, and sexual promiscuity. Marion Cole in The Door in the Floor seduces the young intern, Eddie (who is about the same age as her sons). Their relationship has echoes of Benjamin and Mrs Robinson from The Graduate, only here, the youthful Eddie is more self-assured, and level headed. The young adult characters in The Ice Storm suffer from the neglect and selfishness of their parents — who have created an indulgent bubble that looks in on itself, disconnected from the outside. The children and young adults are placed into conflict with the adult world, forced to flee from it, or naively attempt to ape adult behaviour.
Sexual adventure plays an important role in both narratives. Ted Cole’s serial extra-marital affairs in The Door in the Floor provide comic light relief as well as reveal his inability to come to terms with his loss. Along with writing children’s books, sex is his distraction from reality. Sexual boundaries and taboos are broken, sex between people of different generations, and ‘key parties’ with ‘wife swapping’. Affluence has brought stress and boredom. The Ice Storm’s Hood family live in a beautiful and luxurious, modernist house located in a leafy Connecticut neighbourhood; the Cole’s inhabit a large beachside residence in an exclusive area of Long Island.
The traumatic experiences in The Door in the Floor are personal ones, but the dysfunction in The Ice Storm emanates from a wider moral decline. Young adults watch Nixon on TV and put on a Nixon mask, while they play at being adults. The kids are struggling to fathom their roles in this disconnected world, meanwhile the parents are acting like teenagers — fornicating and partying in an echo chamber that massages their vanity, while also affirming their social status. They have so much, but they have given up so much to attain it. The story demands that a human sacrifice must be made before they can reclaim their humanity. Both these films are warnings, but they play the ‘warning story’ with an affection for the characters, turning the narrative into a darkly comic celebration of human resilience in the face of tragedy.