The Bigger Chill

Saturday, 30 January 2010 12:10 by The Lunatic

The star studded 1983 movie "The Big Chill” was about a weekend reunion of a bunch of old college friends – now in their early 30’s – who all get together for the funeral of Alex, one of their classmates who committed suicide.

The movie is poignant, intelligent, very funny, and somewhat disturbing all the same time. It’s about rekindling old friendships, coping with the shock of their friend Alex’s death, and wondering what happened to the social idealism that they all shared when they attended the University of Michigan in the late 60’s. They were all anti-establishment, idealistic, smart, enthusiastic, with a vocal desire to change the world and make it a better place.

Alex, now deceased, was a charismatic science major. Everyone thought he was the most intelligent one of the bunch – and their mutual friendship really survived through the years because of him. He was the glue that kept them all together, but he was never able to get his own life straightened out.

Now, in 1983, they realize they are becoming the conservative “establishment” that they protested against in college.  They are all relatively secure financially, and on upward career paths – so they can’t even blame each other for “selling out” as they are all equally guilty.

It’s an excellent story, a wonderful cast, with an infectious late 60’s hit-filled soundtrack.  Let’s get to know the characters a little bit:

Sarah (Glenn Close) is a physician, and married to ...
Harold (Kevin Kline), who is a business executive. We find out that Sarah had an affair with Alex at one time, but Harold has forgiven her.
Chloe (Meg Tilly) – Alex's young girlfriend. She is the only “outsider”, not part of the college group. Alex and Chloe had been living at Sarah and Harold’s home for some time before he slashed his wrists in their bathroom.
Sam (Tom Berenger) had been a vocal protestor in college but is now a Hollywood star, somewhat reminiscent of Tom Selleck. He is now divorced. Sam still has feelings for ...
Karen (Jo Beth Williams) who is now married. Her conservative and wealthy husband Richard dropped her off at the funeral but decided not to stay.
Nick (William Hurt) is an impotent Vietnam vet. He’s also a disgruntled radio psychologist and part time drug dealer. During the movie, Nick becomes involved with Chloe.
Michael (Jeff Goldblum) was once a radical journalist, but he now works for People Magazine. He, in particular, knows that his current work is meaningless crap – but hey, the pay is good. He WANTS to become involved with Chloe, but it’s quite obvious that she doesn’t care for him one iota.
Meg (Mary Kay Place) is a successful, unmarried lawyer, who wants desperately to have a kid. In the end, Sarah offers up her husband to sleep with her and hopefully fulfill her wishes.

Last, and almost certainly least (as far as screen time goes), is Alex – who was played by a very young Kevin Costner. Unfortunately, all the “flashback” scenes where Alex appeared were chopped out in the edit suite. The only part of Costner that was shown in the final release: it really was his feet in the coffin.


So here’s a treatment for the sequel, we’ll call it “The Bigger Chill”:

It’s New Years Eve – December 31, 2009. These same characters are now in their late 50’s and early 60’s.  Even without Alex, their friendship has grown much stronger over the years, and at this New Years gathering they all have something to celebrate.

Harold, the promising executive in the 1983 version of The Big Chill, made his way up the ladder to become CEO in 1988. He realized that the company he was running was worth more for it’s assets than it’s ongoing business, so he dismantled the company and sold off the pieces. This started his career as a corporate raider. In 2009, as the economy tanked, there were plenty of takeover targets – their cash flow could not sustain operations, but they had value in their land, factories, brands, and he gobbled them up, laying off thousands of workers along the way. He managed to foist off most of the debt to bondholders, who blamed the previous management for the declining rating to junk bond status.

Meg, the lawyer, really struck it big. She initiated a large class action lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company, whose product had a minor side effect that sickened about 2,000 people.  They all recovered, but she was successful in moving the lawsuit forward, using Sarah (the doctor) as a key “expert witness” – who really impressed the court with her passion about the evil empire drug companies. Meg’s most brilliant move was to include a competing company in the suit. No one who got sick was actually taking the competitors product, but both drugs had the same active ingredient so the judge ruled that both were liable.  Everyone who had ever used either product (almost half a million people) got $500 each – including people who’s lives were saved by it with no side effects.  The 2,000 people who did get sick received a whopping $10,000 each. The damages that the two pharmaceutical companies had to pay was over $260 million in total, including legal fees.  Insurance companies refused to cover these products after that. Shareholders lost billions, medical costs went up across the country, and people are now dying as there is no other approved treatment. But Meg’s firm netted well over $50 million in 2009 for representing the class, and she feels good about “sticking it to the man”.

And Sam, the handsome actor, went into politics with Michael (the reporter) as his press secretary. Sam, now governor, managed to get the state to reduce corporate taxes in certain industries, but he made up for the difference by raising sales taxes.  Somehow, the only winners in the state were companies owned by Harold – but no one has caught on to that yet. Sam shows his support for the environment by driving a Prius, which was the major feature of his re-election campaign.

Lastly is Karen, who is still faithfully married to Richard. She is a mid-level manager at AIG, upset that her performance bonus in 2009 was only $1.2 million. She is mildly insulted when Harold asks her “What performance? It was your department that needed the bail-out by the government.”

Missing from the group is Nick, who died from a drug overdose shortly after marrying Chloe.

Late to the reunion is Meg’s 27 year old son, who was sired by Harold during the first movie. His name is Alex (appropriate, since he was conceived at Alex’s funeral), and he’s a promising young lawyer in his mom’s firm. Meg and Harold have kept up their sexual relationship over the years, with Sarah’s full knowledge and consent. In fact, we find that Sarah has joined them a few times for an occasional ménage à trois. Free sex is the one vestige of their 60’s lifestyle that they still hold on to.

At their reunion to celebrate the 2010 New Year, the six reminisce about old times. Sarah and Harold still own the house (where both movies take place); it’s now just a weekend retreat. However, it has been fortified with security walls and a large contingent of armed guards 24 hours a day to fend off the whackos.

They still miss Alex, and they all think he missed out on the best years of what should have been a prosperous life. He could have put his analytical and strategic skills to good use, if he had just given capitalism a chance.

2009 had been good to them, but they are all looking to the future – planning for an even better 2010. Unemployment is way too high, they all agree, and the economy is in shambles. But there are still many, many new opportunities coming up every day.

Harold, Sarah, Meg, Sam, Karen, and Michael are amused by the fresh batch of young, idealistic college students who are angry at the ballooning national debt, the corporate scandals, the mess that healthcare is in, all the world’s problems which they will inherit.  They all smile because they know a big secret – the brightest of these young students will one day BECOME the establishment. Their ideals will go to the wayside once they get a taste of success. They will do everything they can to get ahead, make a fortune for themselves, and leave everyone else behind – just as every generation has done since time began.

The movie ends with them raising their glasses of Champaign in a toast to the next generation, those who will lead the world in 20 years.  In the meantime, there is still some work to do and profits to be made.

And if that doesn’t give you a Big Chill, I don’t know what will.

Comments (1) -

February 13. 2010 03:21

Wow buddy, that's harsh!

Bill Fields

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