i was watching "127 hours" last night, the film about the kid who had to cut off his arm because he got it stuck under a boulder while hiking. i had very low expectations for the film, but still ended up depressed by how stupid it was. which got me thinkign about good depressing films, so i thought i'd share with you some of my favorite depressing movies and invite your comments/suggestions.
1. "The Swimmer" (1968) -- a ridiculously in-shape-for-55 burt lancaster decides that, while he's walking home (from where?) he'll swim through all his neighbor's swimming pools along the way. as you begin watching this film, you 're expecting typical hollywood fluff, and about an hour into it, your expectations are not challenged. and then at about the halfway point the mood shifts dramatically, and the remainder of the film is some of the most metaphysically desperate narrative i've ever seen, culminating in a most horrifying image. the film is clearly an allegory, but an allegory for what? this is not only a great film for people who demand to be given a deal of autonomy while watchign a film, but for those who like to ponder the more negative aspects of living identified by the existentialist philosophers. i've never walked away from a film feeling more empty in my life, but in a way that is rewarding in the extreme. it's based on a story by john cheever.
2. "Christiane F." (1981) -- This makes "Requiem for a Dream" look like an episode of "loony tunes". the D.A.R.E. cliches that typify Aronovsky's piece of shit film are lacking here, as a young berlin girl gets hooked on smack and ends up living on the streets and whoring herself to support her habit. this is an intensely realistic film about drug addiction filmed amid the glorious backdrop of one of the world's loveliest cities, with david bowie himself performing in the film and lending his berlin-period songs to it as well.
3. Static (1985) -- this is one of those 80's films for which the word "quirky" was invented. a young man (played by keith gordon, who gave up acting to become a director--his "the chocolate war" is brilliant.) thinks he has invented a machine that allows him to photograph images of heaven. you find out that he's recently experienced the death of his parents, and that he misses them dearly. the ending is absurd, as is a lot of the film, but somehow i found it as a whole a great experience. this is a real cult film with a small but dedicated following.
4. Kes (1969) -- conventional wisdom says that the commercial failure of this film in the usa was due to the incomprehensible accents of the northern english working class characters. i think this is wrong, as even with the sound off the plot is apparent. i think the real reason why americans didn't warm to it is due to the film's taking an unflinching look at the living conditions of the losers of history--the (english) working class. the young protagonist billy lives in cramped living conditions with his mother and his older brother who works "down in the pit". he eventually finds a baby kestrel (falcon) and trains it to fly with teh aid of a book he steals. it becomes clear that his time spent with the kestrel is the only experience of beauty he has in his bleak life. although the viewer knows that this is not going to turn out well, the end of the film is nevertheless extremely saddening, forcing the bourgeois viewer to confront how his/her society treats the working class. this was marketed as a "family film", but i don't think it should be watched by children.
5. River's Edge (1986) -- this film isn't depressing in the visceral way that "kes" is, but i think paints the most accurate picture of the destruction of the american family, which is a sad subject indeed. a high school student kills one of his female friends for no reason, and his other friends (led by crispin glover in all his glory) decide to help him cover it up for no reason. keanu reeves delivers the second best performance as one of the friends who still seems to have some humanity in him, and resists the glover character's drive to save the murderer. this is a profoundly intellectual film, which rewards multiple viewings, as there's a lot going on under the surface (could you say the same for "127 hours"?).
6. "In a year with 13 moons" (1978) -- this is directed by pretentious german filmmaker rainer werner fassbinder, and there's a lot in this film to hate (i'm thinking of the dumb homage to jerry lee lewis). in many ways this typifies the worst of the european art film, but i think it's worth checking out for the performance of volker spengler, who plays a man who has thoughtlessly undergone a sex-change operation to please a man who wants nothign to do with him. this is a film about loneliness and the human need to be loved, and in many ways deals with these themes in an interesting way. one scene in particular that sticks out to me is when he goes to these people's apartment through the invitation of a prostitute he has met to hang out for a while. one of the men tells about a dream he had where he's in a cemetery, but as he's looking at the tombstones he notices that the dates are all of low durations (e.g. 1955-1957). someone else in the cemetery tells him that these dates don't represent the dead person's life span, but the years in which they had a true friend. as this is being recited, new york punk rock band suicide's famous "frankie teardrop" is playing in the background, making the scene all the more dire and anxiety-provoking.
7. "withnail & i" (1987) -- combines the funny and the sad. just see it!
honorable mention for "ikiru" (1952).
a few i've got on the block to watch next are, "make way for tomorrow" "1937", and "wanda" (1970), but i just haven't been in the mood for this kind of stuff lately.