Film Notes: Iceman (1984) by Fred Schepisi

Iceman (1984) is an elegy on the segregation of human beings that prophecies the doom of modern man in the most realistic way.

4 out of 4 stars

Hidden in Snow

There is a reason why Iceman (1984) was set in snow. White symbolizes peace. More importantly, since white is not essentially a color, it does not contribute to the segregation of colors. When we see white, we just see white. We do not form the impression of any specific color in our minds. This is what the film stands for. When we see a human being, we just see another human being. For instance, in the beginning, when we first see the iceman in the block of snow, we are amazed like the other characters in the film that a prehistoric man has been unearthed. To classify based on color or gender or race is to find color in white.

But that is exactly what we do. And this is what the film is about. As the iceman is flown in the block of ice, the scene resembles the beginning of ‘La Dolce Vita‘. It is also an allusion to the resurrection of Jesus, contrasting the manner in which we treat the unknown. In a scene, the iceman spends blissful time within nature. However, soon he finds out that this world is actually a cage. The scene is beautifully melancholic. Just like there is a cage individually suited for each different animal, there is a cage tailor-made for the iceman. But a cage is still a cage. The modern man is great at building machines that resemble cages. Our mobile phones themselves are cages in the way we bind ourselves to them.

A Caged Man

But the caged man here does not understand these boundaries. As the iceman, John Lone is tested at multiple levels as he gives a performance that must be one of the most neglected ever. He has to forget everything he knows to show us what we have forgotten. When he first comes across Dr. Shephard, the first thing he does is to hold Shephard’s hand in his hands. He does this to understand whether he is a human being. Since Shephard’s entire body has been hidden it is difficult for the iceman to figure out what he is. The moment he understands, all boundaries get dissolved. It is a scene with a strong statement.

Segregation of human beings

One aspect of the film I highly admired is that no modern man is an enemy here. Everybody is here to do their work. Their motives may differ, but that does not necessarily make them ruthless and cruel. In most films of this kind, a villain exists to counter the sympathetic hero. Here the antagonists are those who want to study the iceman biologically. This would mean killing the man. But we are hardly surprised since this is what we do in our laboratories. Therefore, the conflict here is between material interests and the realization of the soul. Shephard wants to know the man’s soul. But the rest thinks otherwise.

Therefore, the film presents before us a conflict that we face every day. We connect with material things while our souls fail to connect with one another. Thus, it is not the caged man who is actually caged, it is us. The film indicates this in a lot of scenes. On numerous occasions, we see screens that separate one person from another.

In such a scenario, the 1984 film appears more relevant than ever, since man’s ambition to become God has become stronger in time. The iceman’s final scenes with his God symbolize the result of this ambition. As we forget that we are part of nature and seclude ourselves, we are bound to fall because we fail to understand the soul of nature. Thus the film is an elegy on the segregation of human beings.


film notes: the oath (2016) by baltasar kormákur

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