I know it’s hardly profound, but I really like it in movies/plays/etc. traverse into the negative zone (as the movie calls it, borrowing from The Fantastic Four), where everything is sort of different and after the characters enter, everything changes. In The Ice Storm, about half-way through the movie there is (surprise, surprise) an ice storm during which pretty big events happen.
The setup is pretty common among literature. Like I said, it reminded me of 1950s plays such as “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” When I studied “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in college (I wrote a paper titled “Searching for Reality: How Drugs, Self-Deception, and the Influence of Family Help Mary Tyrone Find Her ‘Self’ In ‘Long Dayâ€™s Journey Into Night'”), I remember my professor commenting on the fact that a major theme of 1950s American drama was family and drinking.
Ever since then, I’ve noticed that lots of literature includes a structure where somewhere around the middle (or Act II), there is either some sort of natural disaster and/or the characters become very intoxicated, and the truth comes out. More recent examples of this setup include Magnolia (raining frogs), Anniversary Party (ecstasy and a lost dog), and Judy Berlin (eclipse), and Short Cuts (earthquake). Likewise, I’ve noticed the theme in older works of literature. Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” comes immediately to mind — once the characters enter the woods, everything changes.
Despite the fact it’s a frequently used trope, I think it works. I think all of us can relate to those strange times or places in life when events compound on top of each other, and then some surreal bigger-than-life phenomenon takes place (or appears to), and for whatever reason, we gain some new insight into life and grow as a person.