Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
“Iceman,” released in 1984, has a fairly cornball screenplay, but it’s elevated by its director and star. That star is John Lone. Playing a Neanderthal who is unfrozen after 40,000 years on ice, Lone is passionate and painfully sensitive. Although Timothy Hutton receives top billing, it’s Lone who is the movie’s soul. Once you meet his iceman, you don’t want to leave him. Though the screenplay puts forward several ideas, they don’t mesh. Director Fred Schepisi gives a considerable push to the theme of man meddling where he shouldn’t. He even references “Frankenstein” during a dazzling defrosting scene that mixes horror with a melancholy sense of wonder. (I loved an image of the frozen iceman, lying face-up on a gurney, arms stretched to the ceiling in a gesture that might be suspended ecstasy, hope, or even desperation.) But once that’s finished you’re left with some weak commentary on the shittiness of the modern world. (From what we learn of the iceman’s pre-freeze existence, the prehistoric world was also pretty shitty.) Since the decision to revive the iceman isn’t dramatized, the “we shouldn’t do it” aspect of the debate has no play within the film, which makes the commentary condemning that decision feel vestigial. Hutton’s anthropologist, tellingly named Shephard, urges his colleagues to cease their experiments on the iceman; but experiments or no experiments the iceman remains trapped out of time, and had he never been defrosted he’d be trapped in ice rather than in a lab. Shephard’s complaints are humane but skirt the issue. The real meat of the movie lies in the relationship that develops between Shephard and the iceman, whom the anthropologist names Charley. Charley’s awakening to the realities of his predicament, and his all-too-human appetite for meaning and connection, give the movie a mythic quality that’s hard to shake. The Shephard-Charley relationship expands in feeling even as it hits expected beats, and Shephard’s exasperation in the face of his friend’s dilemma will resonate with anyone who has attempted to help someone in spite of an awareness of impotence. Schepisi and cinematographer Ian Baker find ingenious ways of communicating through visuals what the insipid discussions of the movie’s scientists fail to suggest. I especially enjoyed the clever way in which they shoot the giant terrarium in which Charley is confined: Its limits are revealed gradually, in stages, effectively dramatizing Charley’s awakening to the reality of his imprisonment. And the ice formations that surround the arctic facility in which the scientists work are suitably alien and magisterial. Like the ice fields in “Frankenstein,” they represent the limits of human influence. When Shephard follows Charley out into this frozen desolation, their differences are nullified.