Wednesday, March 24, 2010

5 Really Depressing Movies

I'm kind of a fan of movies; I don't live and breathe cinema, but I like some of them. In my opinion really well-done science fiction is a slice of heaven. I also love batshit-crazy comedies featuring stupid people doing stupid things, and a really edgy, intelligent psychological thriller. But there's something to be said for gloomy, depressing films, the kind that bum you out to no end and make you feel drained and sad. No one wants a steady diet of them, because real life can be depressing enough, but once in a while they just hit the spot, emotionally speaking.

Thus, I submit to you my choices for the Most Depressing Movies Ever. Your mileage may vary, and I'm sure everyone has their own lists, but these are the ones that really send me into a blue funk, and entertain me along the way. Here they are, in order of less to most depressing:

5. Wings of Desire (1987, directed by Wim Wenders, starring Bruno Ganz). This is the story of an angel who somehow got himself trapped between worlds, heaven and earth, and was condemned to live with one foot in each. Set in Berlin, the Angel plods solemnly through a bleak, sterile urban landscape completely devoid of life, color and vitality. Streets are narrow, dirty and windswept, buildings are plain, drab and faceless, and nighttime scenes are in a black monotone with streetlights futilely trying to pierce the smothering darkness. The isolation and alienation of the Angel is palpable, as is his sense of being everywhere and nowhere at once. A triumph of depicting the numbing austerity of urban life.

4. Trainspotting (1996, directed by Danny Boyle, starring Ewan MacGregor). This movie followed the miserable, stultifying lives of some residents of Edinburgh, Scotland as hopelessness and drug addiction swallow them up and lead them to commit various crimes. It shows how they use any and all means possible, from alcohol to heroin, to try to dull the pain of their wretched existence. They have really awful lives and what's worse, they know they have really awful lives. One of them makes the memorable comment that their country was once taken over by the English, who are a "bunch of wankers," so what does that make them? There is a sequence in the middle of the film where Ewan MacGregor's character undergoes withdrawal from heroin addiction. It is truly horrifying and astonishing, hallucinatory and painful to watch, but a masterful combination of imagery and music. The highlight is a dead baby crawling across the ceiling - really cheesy in terms of special effects but it will gross you out to within an inch of your life. But there are flashes of humor and for this movie, a relatively happy ending, so it does cover all the bases quite well.

3. Wonderland (2003, directed by James Cox, starring Val Kilmer). Wonderland is one of a subgenre of films which I call "L.A. Pathological." These movies are set in an arid, surreal and bleached-out southern California, which extends from south of Santa Barbara to the Mexican border, and east from the coast to the Arizona border. It seems everyone who lives there is a junkie or a hooker, and everywhere the landscape is bleak to the extreme. There is a stifling, suffocating nihilism, and an air of complete, total hopelessness pervades everything. The film, supposedly based on real events, relates the story of the involvement of 70's porn icon John Holmes in the brutal murders of 4 people in an apartment on Wonderland Street. For most of the inhabitants, their idea of planning for the future is wondering where their next drug fix is coming from and whether they're going to be alive 24 hours from now. Even the people who are trying to lead relatively normal lives find themselves being consumed by despair. Other films of this type are The Salton Sea (2002, directed by D. J. Caruso, starring Val Kilmer AGAIN!), a sprawling, repellent story of meth freaks and criminals set near the surreal weirdness of the Salton Sea in California. I have actually been there and it stinks to high heaven and has lots of eccentric people living in their recreational vehicles and is weirder than you can ever imagine. Also Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch, Naomi Watts) a claustrophobic, dimly lit and highly disturbing mind-f**k which will leave you reeling and confused like riding on a roller coaster blindfolded.

2. Leaving Las Vegas (1995, directed by Mike Figgis, starring Nicholas Cage).
This movie starts out bleakly and just goes downhill from that point. Loser-in-life Nicholas Cage comes to Las Vegas with the intention of drinking himself to death, which he does, but along the way falls in love with a hooker. She tries her damnedest to save him because in their weird, infinitely dysfunctional way, they have sort of found redemption in each other. She doesn't quite succeed, and this is one of those times when death is a welcome blessing. DO NOT watch this movie in the late evening and then go to bed, you will have a really bad night.

1. Requiem for a Dream (2000, directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Ellen Burstyn). This story chronicles the disintegration of a family whose matriarch lives in Brighton Beach, New York, and exists in a fantasy world where she tries to recreate happier times. Her husband is dead and her life is lonely, and her feckless son and well-meaning daughter-in-law are trying to deal with their own wretched lives and are not really inclined to help the mother much. Each of them descends into their own hellish, nightmarish cesspool as various schemes to get money for drugs or, in the case of the mother, a spot on a deeply disturbing television contest show, ultimately lead to their degradation and dissolution. Filmed in a very unique style, it mesmerizes you and sucks you into the story. The horror and ugliness are unrelenting, and just when you think it can't get any worse, it of course does. Extremely graphic and unflinching, it is a train wreck of galactic proportions, from which you cannot tear your eyes away. I was still bummed out 2 days after my first viewing, and various scenes from the film haunt my dreams to this day. A truly awful masterpiece.

There you have it, my list of (actually more than) 5 really depressing films. Honorable mention to There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Day-Lewis) an extraordinarily detailed smorgasbord of all that is wrong with humanity, and Crash (1996, directed by David Cronenberg), not the one with Sandra Bullock, but with James Spader who gets involved with a group of people who get sexually aroused by automobile crashes. I had to sit through that movie at least twice before I could even begin to wrap my brain around such a concept. Then there's the grandaddy of all depressing films, Eraserhead (1976, David Lynch, Jack Nance) an Alice-in-Wonderland-on-bad-LSD trip down the rabbit hole to hell. After you watch one of these movies you will want to take a long hot bath and hug a fluffy bunny. See! Getting horribly depressed can be fun!

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