In the 2006 movie The Lake House, a tree whose seasonally changing leaves mirror the feelings of the protagonists grows through the center of a home. We know that Keanu Reeves is with the wrong woman because she doesn’t wear winter boots. And that Sandra Bullock is with the wrong man because he wears a tie while working from home. Keanu and Sandra, on the other hand, know how to accessorize for a Chicago February, he with a most excellent array of turtleneck sweaters, she with an abundant collection of fashion scarves. They are meant for each other. The Lake House is not subtle, and it is not good. But it captures winter in Chicago better than any other film.
A brief summary: Keanu’s Alex lives in 2004. Sandra’s Kate lives in 2006. Yet they own the same dog, and thanks to a paranormal mailbox, they write letters to each other through space and time. They fall in love, but the obstacle keeping them apart seems insurmountable, even as star-crossed romances go. Spoiler alert, for anyone who doesn’t want a 15-year-old movie spoiled: Alex is dead, sort of?
Moving on. While The Lake House does not have a good grasp of physics or emotional restraint, it does get one thing right. Most of the movie takes place outside, on L platforms and at construction sites, meandering from the Loop to the titular lake house, which was built for the movie (and later torn down) in Willow Springs. The ground is wet, the snow always half melted — the Chicago of The Lake House is not the winter fantasyland of Home Alone. This is nuisance snow that slops at the hem of our pants and makes us curse when we step off the curb. There is also the optimism of those few cracklingly clear winter days when the sky is blue, the air is lighter, and you can see just enough ground to remember that the dirt is still there and it won’t always be mud.
At one point, Kate tries, unsuccessfully, to save Alex from catching a cold by warning him of an April snowstorm, a Chicago ritual. “Everyone got sick,” she writes. Meanwhile, Alex cooks soup, and you can see the flurries start to swirl through the window over his shoulder. He sneezes.
Eventually, of course, the snow stops. The sun comes out. Alex is well. His reward for making it through that freakish episode is spring.