[1983] The Big Chill

The true horror of the sprint towards my own death has not yet set in. I still feel I am jogging through the spring of my own life and refer to those older than me as that – older. Maybe wiser and certainly more cynical (cynicism for cynicism’s sake, it seems), but older. Perhaps I live an insulated life, balancing school with my desire to do nothing. It creeps along.

But I do have friends and even when I don’t see my friends for long periods of time, when we do meet, it’s as though nothing has changed. We’re older, collectively, and we no longer complain about the same things, but we have each other and we have our stories to find comfort in them. Since we’ve left each other’s daily company, we’ve had time to breathe, and while we don’t share the same experiences, we experience together. The dynamic seems to be cyclical in that we continue to learn from one another’s separate experiences. Though separated by 200 miles, we have phones, email, social media and any other way to replicate the experience of being together. It doesn’t take an event to get us together. The Big Chill replicates 70% of my experience.

The percentage is representative and arbitrary, but it represents the proxy of time. The additional 30% that’s not representative of my experience is squarely rooted in era. In 1983, the archetypes proxied in Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, had no ability to see into the very eye of their future’s storm, and were no better off for it. The ensemble cast of present and future star-power provided that connective spark; it seemed like had this movie been remade any time in the last 30 years (it has) it would suffer from the predilection of storytelling faux pas. As the tech increased, so stripped were the characters’ collective to believably not know details. In a time when news was limited to dailies and infrequent news reports, it is no doubt believable that these college friends – 10 years or more – out from school have shared experience without synapse. They cross wires not because they no longer understand one another but because they don’t have the lifeline that we do, today in 2015. And it is because of this, not in spite of it, that this movie works, that it feels authentic even though the character dynamic falls short of buffoonery.

Pick an archetype and The Big Chill provides a reasonable approximation for it, either in Jeff Goldblum’s oversexed and lonely mensch, a young Glenn Close & Kevin Kline as the moral and stable married couple, William Hurt as the angry Vietnam War vet with…issues, and a handful of other characters with their all-too-obvious character dialects and demons. Usually character ‘types’ are fine in the face of a plot filled with twists and The Big Chill is an example by way of undercooked characters and overcooked plot, but it works because the characters haven’t yet started sprinting and I can relate. The only difference is that I can reach out whenever I want.

Nineteen eighty-three was Terms of Endearment‘s year, winning Best Picture and a handful of other awards for acting and directing. The Big Chill joins Tender Mercies, The Dresser, and The Right Stuff as a film that has enough staying power and a log in the anthology of Best Picture, and one whose ideas will be unbelievably ripped for the foreseeable future, or as long as we’re different people, whichever.

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