The Big Chill (1983)

Lawrence Kasdan | 1hr 45min

With an absolutely stacked cast featuring up-and-coming names including Jeff Goldblum, Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, and Tom Berenger, there was no way The Big Chill wouldn’t leave a mark on its audiences, even just for the acting alone. Kasdan mixes and matches different combinations of these great screen talents from scene to scene, always finding fresh, vibrant character interactions within this group of former high school friends. It creates tension between some, and sparks of romance between others, but binding them all together is the reason for the gathering – the death of an old comrade, which in turn comes to represent the death of an entire era. Both joyful and painful memories of their shared pasts are brought back to the surface after years of dormancy, this familiarity revealing itself in their unexplained inside jokes, communal habits, and even just the way they groove along to the music of their adolescence while preparing food in the kitchen.

A brilliant 60s Motown soundtrack, being put to good use here as the friends dance to “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by The Temptations.

Most of all though, these friends are all haunted by the grief felt for the suicide of a man they thought they knew so well. Kevin Costner was originally cast in the role of Alex, the deceased friend, and although all of his scenes were cut from the film, that feeling of emptiness remains, leaving a great deal of ambiguity in our minds around his character. What prompted this act to begin with? Did he realise some great, despairing truth about the hopelessness of living in modern America that hasn’t settled in for the others yet? Why didn’t he share his pain with them? Could it have even just been a freak accident?

Kasdan smartly playing the physical gag of Sam’s failed stunt in this terrific long shot.

While many of his friends are happy to distract themselves from the tough questions for a while, the lack of answers forces them to turn inwards to consider their own insecurities. Sam, a famous TV star, is the one to prompt this contemplation, as he in particular feels the great weight of a reputation that he can’t live up to pressing in on his life. All throughout The Big Chill, he finds that he is only ever celebrated and respected for the accomplishments of the character he plays on television, despite not even being able to smoothly leap into a convertible like he is so famous for. It is in this group of friends who have seen him at his most awkward and vulnerable, as a young adult, that he finds genuine acceptance. Though it is far from a permanent fix, this insular world that keeps alive the spirit of a bygone era is the one he, and the rest of his friends, wish to live in. Eventually the cynicism and meaningless of a nihilistic, contemporary American culture will creep back into their lives, but for now, this brief return to a hopeful past is all they have to cling onto.

The Big Chill is available to stream on the Criterion Channel and Binge, and available to rent or buy on YouTube.

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