When Mrs. Bridge says she would like to see an analyst, Mr. Bridge (Paul Newman) says, "You can talk to me!" in Mr. & Mrs. Bridge.

The dialogue in these films has two layers of emotion. When the characters speak, the literal meaning of their words points to an emotion. But there is a second layer of emotion that their words are hiding. Miscommunication occurs when the characters articulate their first layer of emotion, but not their second layer. The result is a kind of emotional double-speak.
    For instance, when Mrs. Bridge wants to see a psychiatrist in Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, Mr. Bridge becomes uneasy and belittles the science of psychiatry. When she explains that she needs someone to talk to, he replies: "You can talk to me!" But then, feeling guilty for dismissing her so roundly, he offers to buy her a new car, which she kindly declines.
    Mr. Bridge's first emotional layer is his hostility towards his wife's suggestion. He wants to show his contempt for psychiatry, hence, his harsh criticisms. In Mr. Bridge's mind, however, he is experiencing fear-- the second layer. Psychoanalysis represents "the unknown" to him and he feels that his role as his wife's protector is being threatened. Unsure of how to respond, he hides his own uncertainty by verbally beating his wife into submission. He does not mean to hurt her, as shown when he repents by offering to buy her a new car. But he chooses to show only hostility instead of admitting his own insecurity.5


Mrs. Carver (Sigourney Weaver) tells Wendy "a person's body is his temple" in The Ice Storm.

     In The Ice Storm, miscommunication takes the form of bizarre discussions of sex. The day before Thanksgiving, Mrs. Carver (Sigourney Weaver) finds her son and Wendy Hood playing "I'll show you mine if you show me yours." Mrs. Carver pulls Wendy aside for a reprimand:

Wendy, a person's body is his temple. This body is your first and last possession. Now, as your own parents have probably told you, in adolescence, our bodies tend to betray us and that's why in Samoa and other developing nations, adolescents are sent out into the woods, unarmed, and they don't come back until they've learned a thing or two. Do you understand?


Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) and his son Paul (Tobey Maguire) discuss self-abuse in The Ice Storm.

    In a later scene, Ben Hood is driving his son Paul home from boarding school for Thanksgiving. The car ride proceeds normally until Ben starts lecturing:

On the self-abuse front, and this is important, I don't think it's advisable to do it in the shower. It wastes water and electricity and because we all expect you to be doing it there in any case. And not onto the linen. Well, anyway, if you're worried about anything at all, just feel free to ask and we'll look it up.

    The parents try to appear like authorities on adolescent sexuality -- that is, they want to command respect from their listeners (the first layer). But underneath their display, the speakers are hiding their own uneasiness about sex (the second layer), as shown when their speeches deteriorate into incoherent musings. As a result, they alienate their audiences instead of drawing them closer.


Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) in Welcome to the Dollhouse.

    Welcome to the Dollhouse contains the harshest language of all three films, and Dawn is the sad recipient of most of the insults. She is called a variety of names throughout the film: lesbo, dinghead, retard, asshole, cunt, bitch, ugly bitch, piece of shit, piece of ugly fuck, and above all, Wienerdog. Ironically, Dawn encourages the insults by flaunting her low self-esteem. She wears ill-fitting little-girl clothes; she is overly timid; and she only socializes with other social lepers. People insult her (at least in part) because they don't know how to respond to her self-loathing. They are scared of her, but they are even more scared of admitting it. To conceal their fear (the second layer of emotion), they use slander to push Dawn as far away as possible. The verbal abuse Dawn suffers is graphic, but it comes from the same fear Mr. Bridge tries to conceal from his wife.
    The insults fly at Dawn with such frequency that she recycles them on those closest to her. After a bad day at school, her friend Ralphy telephones her. Her little sister, Missy, tries to convince Dawn to talk to him. Dawn refuses, calling Ralphy a 'faggot' and 'asshole'.
    The words 'faggot' and 'lesbo' abound in Welcome to the Dollhouse. For sexually insecure junior high schoolers, an attack on one's sexual identity is perhaps the ultimate insult. Dawn is not a lesbian. She has a crush on her older brother's computer science partner, Steve. She even has a love affair with a local bully, Brandon. If Dawn is attracted to the opposite sex, why do the lesbo chants continue? As in The Ice Storm, the characters try to appear more knowledgeable about sex than they really are. Calling others 'faggot' and 'lesbo' is their way of hiding their inexperience.
    The dialogue in these scenes is not syntactically complex. The characters speak vernacular English and slang. The simplicity of suburban dialogue masks the true emotional thickness that the characters are experiencing. Melodramas, on the other hand, use dialogue that is ornate but one-layered; its purpose is to unequivocally communicate the characters' (often-shallow) thoughts. These three suburban films prove that their characters are definitely not shallow. While these films clearly indict the suburban culture that frowns upon emotional frankness, they reserve a peculiar empathy for suburbanites who aren't allowed to say what they mean.

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