AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Big Chill
Director: Lawrence Kasdan (Dir)
Release Date:   30 Sep 1983
Duration (in mins):  105
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Cast: Tom Berenger  (Sam [Weber])
  Glenn Close  (Sarah [Cooper])
  Jeff Goldblum  (Michael)

Summary: In Richmond, Virginia, athletic shoe company owner Harold Cooper bathes his young son as his wife, Sarah, receives a telephone call, informing her of the suicide of the couple’s closest friend, Alex. He was living in their antebellum vacation home in Beaufort, South Carolina, with his young, offbeat girl friend, Chloé. Her plans to renovate a country cabin with Alex were cut short when he slashed his wrists in the Coopers' bathtub. The news of Alex’s death spreads among his group of seven companions from the University of Michigan, and they reunite for his funeral. Along with Harold and Sarah, the friends include Meg, an edgy, childless career woman with plans to use one of her male friends as a sperm donor; Michael, an uppity writer who compromised his talent to work as an investigative journalist for People magazine; Sam Weber, an actor cast in the title role of a tawdry but successful television series called J. T. Lancer; Nick, a derisive Vietnam War veteran who left his job as a radio show therapist to become a drug dealer; and Karen Bowens, a suburban housewife who was always the object of Sam Weber’s affection, even though she dated Nick in college. After the ceremony, the Coopers host their friends for the weekend. The group rekindle past grievances, reflect upon their transformations into adulthood, and reveal secrets about their pasts. Sam, the actor, is recently divorced and still has his heart set on Karen. When he blames Michael for exploiting his failing marriage in People, Michael apologizes and vows to leave the magazine. He announces his plan to open a nightclub, and Sam feigns interest in being an investor. The evening after the funeral, the friends gather in their pajamas and reminisce while Nick snorts cocaine in his makeshift attic bedroom. When Meg creeps upstairs and propositions him for sex, Nick explains that the Vietnam War left him impotent. Later, Nick and Sam discuss their conflicting affections for Karen and are surprised to find her husband, Richard, in the kitchen. He explains he is a secret insomniac who is deeply unsatisfied with his work, but is willing to prioritize responsibility over happiness. Richard wonders why Alex was unable to tolerate the realities of adult life. The next morning, Harold convinces Nick to go jogging with him and violates federal law to reveal an insider trading secret that only Alex knew: Harold’s shoe company will soon be purchased by a conglomerate, making its shareholders incredibly wealthy. Harold explains that Alex used the opportunity to buy a cabin, and encourages Nick to invest, so he can profit from the merger and get out of the drug trade. Meanwhile, Karen’s husband, Richard, returns home to care for their children and Karen couples with Sam to go food shopping. As the day progresses, Chloé overhears Nick filming a satirical video documentary about his failed radio show. While Harold drives Michael, Nick, and Chloé to Alex’s cabin, Meg and Sarah prepare dinner. Meg announces that she is ovulating, and has decided to recruit Sam as a sperm donor since Nick is no longer a viable candidate. However, Sam later denies her request. That night, the friends prepare a feast and laugh over the opening sequence of Sam’s television show, J. T. Lancer. At dinner, Sarah cries about Alex, and regrets that the group compromised their liberal ideals. Later, Nick notices Michael flirting with Chloé and prevents further interaction between the two by sedating his friend with a Quaalude pill. As Michael sleeps, Nick tells Chloé that he left the radio show because he didn’t believe his own advice, and the girl reveals she was a regular listener as a child. She called him at the station one night and his blunt advice helped her feel better. The following morning, Harold surprises each of his friends with their own pair of sneakers. Later that day, the companions watch their alma mater’s football game, but Nick drives back to Alex’s cabin. During the game, Michael offers to impregnate Meg but she declines his offer, effectively ending her list of potential mates. Elsewhere, on the front porch, Sarah tells Karen about her brief affair with Alex five years earlier, and admits she loved him throughout her marriage to Harold. During halftime, Nick is escorted back to the Cooper home by a policeman, who suspects he is a drug dealer. However, the officer recognizes Sam from J. T. Lancer and agrees to let Nick go if Sam can demonstrate his character’s signature stunt, jumping into a car through an open window. When Sam fails and injures himself, Harold makes good with the policeman and the officer drives away. Nick insults Harold for being a conformist, but Harold defends his choice to be an upright citizen and reproaches Nick for his failure to come of age. After dinner that night, the friends contemplate Alex’s suicide and cannot make sense of his decision. Nick alienates his companions by arguing that they could not have saved Alex, and that they are over-sentimentalizing their friendships. He claims that life was easier when they were young, and that the “real world” of adulthood is much more complex, and difficult to endure. When Sam storms outside in anger, Karen follows and they make love. Meanwhile, Sarah absolves herself of guilt over her liaison with Alex by asking her husband, Harold, to impregnate Meg. Chloé invites Nick to the basement apartment she shared with Alex, and cries as she goes through her dead lover’s clothes. Back in the living room, the two uncoupled outliers, Michael and Sarah, enjoy each other’s company and Michael announces he is scrapping his nightclub plan to write a novel about the friends’ weekend. When the group reunites the next morning for breakfast, they prepare to return to their ordinary lives. Karen decides to continue her marriage with Richard, and Sam will resume his role as a television action hero in Hollywood, California. Sarah and Harold experience newfound passion for each other, and Meg is beaming with the hope of being pregnant. Nick, who spent the night going through Alex’s papers, wields a college newspaper article Michael wrote. The column explains that Alex became the college celebrity when he turned down the coveted “Rutledge Fellowship” to live a life of non-conformity. Nick decides to remain at the Coopers' home with Chloé, working on the cabin and picking up where Alex left off.  

Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures
Delphi Productions
Production Company: Carson Productions Group, Ltd.
Director: Lawrence Kasdan (Dir)
  Barrie M. Osborne (Unit prod mgr)
  Michael Grillo (1st asst dir)
  Stephen Dunn (2d asst dir)
  Dan Heffner (2d asst dir)
Producer: Michael Shamberg (Prod)
  Barrie Osborne (Assoc prod)
  Marcia Nasatir (Exec prod)
  Lawrence Kasdan (Exec prod)
Writer: Lawrence Kasdan (Wrt)
  Barbara Benedek (Wrt)

Subject Major: Friendship
  Generation gap
  South Carolina
Subject Minor: Actors and actresses
  Drug addiction
  Drug dealers
  Radio performers
  Shoe stores
  Stock market
  Television actors and actresses
  Track and field athletics
  Vietnam War veterans

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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