“As Wichita falls, so falls Wichita Falls.”
In terms of Christmas movies, few seem to actually loathe the holiday as much as Harold Ramis’ penultimate film, The Ice Harvest. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, The Ice Harvest exited the theaters almost as fast as it entered them; critics largely dismissed the movie, expecting more of Ramis’ trademark wit and slapstick, and audiences ignored it in favor of Goblet of Fire, Walk the Line, and Rent. Once you dismiss your expectations, The Ice Harvest has a serious sharply bitter comedic side that views the world with disgust.
Charlie Arglist (John Cusack), a lawyer for the mob, has skimmed over $2 million and is making the run for it on Christmas Eve with his co-conspirator and pornographer Vic (Billy Bob Thorton). Charlie’s wife has left him for the alcoholic and womanizing Pete (Oliver Platt), still bilking him for alimony even as she views both men with disgust, leaving Charlie to pine for Renata, the owner of the strip club. As an ice storm hits the city, leaving everything coated in a slick amount of black ice, Charlie still has to get out alive.
The viewpoint of The Ice Harvest sympathizes, but doesn’t empathize, with Charlie. It views everybody and everything with a distanced cold and calculating viewpoint, watching as its characters ping against each other, sometimes literally on the black ice, but never rooting for anybody. The finale is so defeatist, and could be read as blackly as possible without even changing tone. Even though most black comedies are designed to make you feel dirty, this one is designed to make everything feel dirty. Ramis, using the guise of a neo-noir, coats the world in a mix of cold blues and whites which envelop Charlie’s angst, or warm woods that constantly rejects him. Christmas, family, friends, and everything warm and fuzzy that the holidays represent, are not for men like Charlie, even if they happen to him. Or at least around him.