The Big Chill (film)

The Big Chill (film)
The Big Chill

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
Produced by Michael Shamberg
Written by Lawrence Kasdan
Barbara Benedek
Starring Tom Berenger
Glenn Close
Jeff Goldblum
William Hurt
Kevin Kline
Mary Kay Place
Meg Tilly
JoBeth Williams
Don Galloway
Music by Meg Kasdan
Cinematography John Bailey
Editing by Carol Littleton
Studio Columbia Pictures
Carson Productions Group Ltd.
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) September 28, 1983 (1983-09-28)
Running time 105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $56,342,711

The Big Chill is a 1983 American comedy-drama film directed by Lawrence Kasdan, starring Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams. It is about a group of baby boomer college friends who reunite briefly after 15 years due to the suicide of a friend. Kevin Costner was cast as the dead character Alex, but all scenes showing his face were cut.

The Big Chill was filmed entirely on location in Beaufort, South Carolina and was shot at the same antebellum home used as a location for The Great Santini. The soundtrack features ten late '60s/early '70s pop/rock songs, including "The Weight", "Good Lovin', "In the Midnight Hour" (the Young Rascals version), "You Can't Always Get What You Want", "I Heard It Through the Grapevine (the Marvin Gaye version)", "My Girl" (the Temptations version), "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "Joy To The World" (the Three Dog Night version).

The television show thirtysomething was influenced by The Big Chill.[1] Earlier, however, the movie was directly adapted to television in CBS' short-lived 1985 comedy-drama Hometown.



Harold Cooper (Kevin Kline) is bathing his young son when his doctor wife Sarah (Glenn Close) receives a phone call at their South Carolina home and learns that their friend Alex has committed suicide, slashing his wrists in the bathtub of their guest house.

At the funeral, Harold and Sarah are reunited with college friends from the University of Michigan in the 1960s. They include Sam (Tom Berenger), a famous television actor now living in Los Angeles; Meg (Mary Kay Place), an unhappy former public defender who is now a real estate attorney in Atlanta, who wants a child; Michael (Jeff Goldblum), a sex-obsessed People journalist; Nick (William Hurt), a Vietnam veteran and former radio host who suffers from impotence; Karen (JoBeth Williams), a housewife from suburban Detroit who's unhappy in her marriage to her advertising executive husband Richard (Don Galloway), an outsider; and Chloe (Meg Tilly), the much-younger girlfriend of Alex at the time of his suicide.

Everyone goes from the cemetery to Harold and Sarah's house, where they are invited to stay for the weekend. During the first night there, a bat flies into the attic while Meg and Nick are getting reacquainted. Sam later finds Nick watching television and they briefly talk about Karen. The two then go into the kitchen and find Richard, her husband, making a sandwich, and the three make small talk which turns into a discussion about responsibility and adulthood.

The next morning, Harold and Nick go jogging. Harold's successful company sells running shoes. Harold confides that Sarah and Alex had an affair five years earlier. Nick comforts Harold by saying, "She didn't marry Alex."

Richard returns home to look after his and Karen's kids, but she decides to stay for the weekend. Nick, Harold, Michael and Chloe go for a drive while Sam and Karen go shopping. Meg reveals to Sarah that she wants to have a child, and that she is going to ask Sam to be the father, knowing now that Nick can't.

Harold listens to Michael's plans to buy a nightclub. Chloe takes Nick to the abandoned house that she and Alex were going to renovate; she tells him that he reminds her of Alex, to which Nick replies, "I ain't him."

At dinner, Sarah starts tearing up over Alex as the group talks about him. Harold puts "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by The Temptations on the stereo and everyone dances while cleaning up the dishes. While the others sit around and get high, Meg asks Sam to father her baby, but he declines.

The next morning, Nick, Sam, and Harold go jogging, and the subject of Alex's suicide comes up again. Harold's surprise arrives — sneakers for everyone to wear during the big Michigan football game. The group, minus Nick, watches the game on TV while Sarah tells Karen about her brief affair with Alex and how it affected their friendship negatively. She is subtly warning Karen to rethink her plans to have an affair with Sam.

During the game, Michael offers to father Meg's child, alluding to the fact that they had had sex many years ago during college. At halftime, everyone goes outside to play touch football. Nick returns with a cop following him. He said that Nick ran a red light and was belligerent but that he would drop the charges if Sam would hop into Nick's Porsche like his TV character, J.T. Lancer, always does. Sam's unsuccessful and hurts himself; the officer drops the charges anyway and apologizes to Harold.

Karen later tells Sam that she loves him, wants to leave Richard and live with Sam and her two sons. When they kiss, Sam pulls away and tells Karen to not leave Richard, as she will regret it in the long run. He confesses that it was "boredom" that caused his own marriage to fracture and he doesn't want her to make the same mistake. Karen feels misled and angrily storms into the house.

Harold is on the phone with his daughter, Molly, and lets Meg talk to her. Observing their interaction on the phone, Sarah decides to let Harold impregnate Meg, but does not tell him yet.

The group once again discusses Alex. Nick says, "Alex died for most of us a long time ago," but Sam disagrees and leaves. Karen follows him and the two have sex outside. Sarah tells Harold about Meg's situation while Chloe and Nick go to bed together, even though he warns her of his condition. Meg and Harold then have sex – she says "I feel like I got a great break on a used car" – while Michael and Sarah joke around and interview each other with a video camera.

In the morning while Karen is packing her clothes, she subtly tells Sam that she has decided to stay with Richard. At the breakfast table Harold reveals that Nick and Chloe will be staying in the guest house for a while, then Michael sarcastically states, "Sarah, Harold. We took a secret vote. We're not leaving. We're never leaving." They all laugh and "Joy to the World" plays as the credits roll.



Critical response

Richard Corliss of Time described The Big Chill as a "funny and ferociously smart movie," stating:

These Americans are in their 30s today, but back then they were the Now Generation. Right Now: give me peace, give me justice, gimme good lovin'. For them, in the voluptuous bloom of youth, the '60s was a banner you could carry aloft or wrap yourself inside. A verdant anarchy of politics, sex, drugs and style carpeted the landscape. And each impulse was scored to the rollick of the new music: folk, rock, pop, R&B. The armies of the night marched to Washington, but they boogied to Liverpool and Motown. Now, in 1983, Harold & Sarah & Sam & Karen & Michael & Meg & Nick—classmates all from the University of Michigan at the end of our last interesting decade—have come to the funeral of a friend who has slashed his wrists. Alex was a charismatic prodigy of science and friendship and progressive hell raising who opted out of academe to try social work, then manual labor, then suicide. He is presented as a victim of terminal decompression from the orbital flight of his college years: a worst-case scenario his friends must ponder, probing themselves for symptoms of the disease.[2]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times argued that the film is a "very accomplished, serious comedy" and an "unusually good choice to open this year's festival in that it represents the best of mainstream American film making."[3]

Roger Ebert stated, "The Big Chill is a splendid technical exercise. It has all the right moves. It knows all the right words. Its characters have all the right clothes, expressions, fears, lusts and ambitions. But there's no payoff and it doesn't lead anywhere. I thought at first that was a weakness of the movie. There also is the possibility that it's the movie's message."[4]

The DVD of the film received a 69% rating from Rotten Tomatoes (21 fresh and 10 rotten reviews).[5]

The film was parodied by T. Coraghessan Boyle in his short story "The Little Chill." The story begins, "Hal had known Rob and Irene, Jill, Harvey, Tottle, and Pesky since elementary school, and they were all 40 going on 60."[6]

According to various industry websites (such as, The Big Chill was somewhat similar in its basic "friends reuniting to reminisce about the good old days" premise to John Sayles' earlier independent movie, Return of the Secaucus Seven, but has several major story and character differences.

Kasdan had planned to use The Big Chill to showcase his actor friend, Kevin Costner, but circumstances forced him to almost completely cut the actor from the release print. (He's seen only in the opening sequence, and only in the form of specific body parts — i.e. hair, his wrists — as they are being prepared for a funeral.) Kasdan made it up to Costner by casting him in a plum role in his next directorial effort, Silverado (1985), a rousing return to the Western genre which Kasdan and most others his age knew well.

Fans have long clamored to see Costner's footage for several sequences showing Alex's life prior to his suicide, but in documentaries and interviews since, Kasden has never shown anything more than still photographs from the location shoot. He has also refused to do any sort of "director's cut," saying that the version of the film as it has stood since 1983 is his director's cut and will not be augmented.

Kasdan has approved the release of additional footage, including elongated parts of other scenes that were cut for brevity or other reasons, as bonus material on DVD, but to date none of the Costner footage has ever been released or seen by those outside the production.


The Big Chill won two major awards:

It was nominated for three Oscars:

Other nominations include:


See also


  1. ^ Emmanuel, Susan. "THIRTYSOMETHING". Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  2. ^ Corliss, Richard (1983-09-12). "Cinema: You Get What You Need". Time.,8816,926203,00.html. Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (1983-09-30). "The Big Chill". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  5. ^ "The Big Chill (1983)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  6. ^ Boyle, T. Coraghessan (1989) "The Little Chill," in If the River Was Whiskey. New York: Viking.

External links

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