What Was The Point Of The Ice Fishing Story?

In one of the early scenes of American Hustle, Bradley Cooper’s eager FBI agent tries to convince his stodgy boss, played by comedian Louis C.K., to authorize an audacious sting operation. The boss resists, and to explain his opposition he begins to tell a “life lesson” story about an ice fishing experience with his brother when they were kids.

The story gets interrupted . . . but the hook has been set firmly with Bradley Cooper’s character, who asks his boss about the unfinished ice fishing story every time he sees him thereafter. The story comes out in dribs and drabs as the movie progresses. We learn that the boys went out on the ice in October, earlier than they should have. We learn that their father finds out. But we never hear the end of the story, or the point it is supposed to convey. Bradley Cooper guesses that the younger brother falls through the ice and dies, and the point of the story is that you shouldn’t take unnecessary risks, but the boss says that’s not it.

American Hustle is one of those movies you want to watch again; after you see the ending you want to know when you could first figure what would ultimately happen. It’s like The Sixth Sense, where you want to determine when you could reasonably have concluded – from his clothing, from his lack of actual interaction with living people except for Haley Joel Osment, and other clues — that the Bruce Willis character was a ghost. I’d like to try to put together the elements of the unfinished ice fishing story, to figure out what it was really meant to convey.

Incidentally, Louis C.K. has revealed what he says was the actual ending of the ice fishing story. It’s a crappy ending and I don’t buy it, because it doesn’t fit with the character of the conservative FBI boss or the scenario when he first began to tell the tale. Maybe it’s best that the resolution of the ice fishing story should forever be left untold.

American Hustle And The ’70s

This afternoon Kish and I went to see American Hustle. It’s a clever, interesting, highly entertaining movie that features terrific performances by Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert DeNiro, among many others.

Of course, one of the biggest stars of the movies gets no credit whatsoever. It’s the decade of the ’70s, of course. The movie screams out the ’70s, from the embarrassing hairstyles to the embarrassing clothing to the over-the-top decor of Irving and Rosalyn Rosenfeld’s suburban home. It’s a world of dancing and three-piece suits, gold chains, hairy chests, and skin, cocaine snorts and glitz, where bras apparently weren’t worn and a pop music soundtrack played all day and all night long.

I’m not sure that the movie got all of the lingo and looks exactly right — at the end of the film, for example, one character says “my boss knows you did him a solid,” which I don’t remember as a phrase that was used back then — but it’s clear that a lot of the fun of the movie came from that temporal setting that seems so absurd to us now.

The American understanding of the ’70s seems so fixed that I think it is likely that the decade will always be a popular setting for movies. Just as writers of thrillers and historical fiction can’t resist dipping into the Nazi story, so movie producers and writers will always have a tender spot for the era of leisure suits, elaborate coiffures, and disco.