“He’s a man. Not a specimen. A 40,000 year old man who can teach us about ourselves. Tell us how we evolved.” – Timothy Hutton
Compelling hypothetical of what would happen if a prehistoric man was thawed out from a block of ice. Iceman (1984) is continuously interesting because it’s brainy, curious enough to raise ethical questions of whether they want to dissect him to study the body or understand the thought processes of the mind. The multi-ethnic actor John Lone, immersed into a role of primal and feral acting, plays the title character. The iceman is able to live and breathe, and so he is placed in a controlled environment that feels like the wilderness but is not, just like Jim Carrey was allotted an artificial habitat in “The Truman Show.” Timothy Hutton is the anthropologist interested in giving the iceman more freedom.
Having been years since I’ve seen this last, I was riveted by two developments. One, the thawing process, including the shedding of his damp fur clothing and the electrical shock reviving procedure of the human when they realize he has brainwave activity. Two, the controlled habitat scenes where you wonder how long it will take the Neanderthal to realize his surroundings are artificial. The Iceman will need some human interaction, which is met with Hutton and fellow scientist Lindsay Crouse. He is human, but he is also a dangerous creature from another history of time – and his hostility is difficult to tame ultimately. The film is most fascinating in observing how a Neanderthal would respond to modern machines and contemporary objects for the first time.
Directed by Fred Schepisi (“A Cry in the Dark,” “Roxanne”), his Iceman doesn’t turn into a typical homicidal monster but is treated with caution and curiosity, with practicality and realism. The ending is beautiful but far-fetched, a climax that considers how a Neanderthal would respect a helicopter that he interprets to be a god in the sky. The iceman feels his destiny is to ride the helicopter so that he can reunite with his long lost family. I do feel a little cheated by the shot and editing choices of how he attaches himself to the helicopter. But it has a grandiosity to it nonetheless, and I took a leap of faith. As a final metaphor of the prehistoric man living by myth, it stirs the imagination.
Note: The title is not to be confused with the 2013 “The Iceman” with Michael Shannon as a professional hitman.
99 Minutes. Rated PG.
SCIENCE FICTION / THINKING TEENS / LATE NIGHT FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Film Cousins: “Quest for Fire” (1981); “The Clan of the Cave Bear” (1986); “Encino Man” (1992); “The Truman Show” (1998).