Sometimes you need nothing more than to have a good cry. Unfortunately for me, I seem incapable of doing that (although two films on this list actually made me sob!). It’s not that I’m a hard b*****d or anything (I hope I’m not), in fact I like to think of myself as quite a compassionate and caring human who would mend a fly’s wing if I saw it struggling to fly. There’s something inside me that stops me from releasing my tears. Of course I welled up in Up (get it?) but I’m actually one of the few who didn’t manage to release any tears. The list of films which you’ll find below are amongst the most soul destroying films I’ve seen. Please remember that at the tender age of 19, I still have yet to see some of the most depressing films such as: Christiane F, Leaving Las Vegas, Dear Zachary and any Ingmar Bergman film, but be assured that all of these are on my list of films to see!
But without further ado, let us delve into some of the most powerful and moving experiences that film has to offer. As I mentioned before, even I managed to sob in at least two of these films, so if you don’t get choked up in any of these then you must be some sort of robot like ChatBot.
10. The Elephant Man
David Lynch is at his best when he’s letting his unconscious thoughts run riot in my opinion. However, I understand that a lot of the more ‘normal’ members of the public prefer something that is more straight forward and easy to understand, so maybe you should check out The Elephant Man. It’s one of Lynch’s most acclaimed works and it’s easy to see why. It’s a massive step away from the ultra surrealistic and horrifying world of Eraserhead, and rightly so. It’s the true story of Victorian circus-freak, Joseph Merrick. A hideously deformed human being with a hidden heart of gold. John Hurt plays Merrick superbly and Anthony Hopkins is just as remarkable in his turn as the doctor who takes him in.
It would take the hardest of hearts not to be moved by this story. It’s the perfect film which illustrates the famous saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No one ever gave Merrick even the chance to speak, yet when he does he’s one of the most humbling people you’ll ever witness. He’s overwhelmed with thanks at even the smallest piece of kindness from someone and it’s both delightful and heart-breaking to see. It’s the darker elements of the film that I find the most saddening though. I can barely watch the scene where Pauline Quirke and her gang of bullies break into Merrick’s room and torment him, or the famous train station scene, or the devastating ending where Merrick passes away by simply wanting to sleep like a ‘normal’ person. It’s a beautiful film sure to move the hardest of hearts.
9. 12 Years a Slave
12 Years is definitely the most recent film on my list, but by no means the least deserving. I was pretty darn shocked to see such explicit misery caught on a mainstream film. I’m used to seeing depressing stuff, but this is normally in foreign independent films, not Oscar nominees! 12 Years a Slave deserved every one of its nominations though, and should’ve won far more than it did. It’s another terrible true story of Solomon Northup, a free man in the slave times who is captured and taken into slavery for twelve dreadful years.
In these years we and Solomon witness some of the most horrendous acts in history. The treatment of Lupita Nyong’o is particularly hard to watch as she’s raped and whipped to an inch of her life at the hand of Michael Fassbender’s sadistic plantation owner, Edwin Epps. 12 Years a Slave is quite simply a masterpiece. It’s superbly directed by Steve McQueen and features stellar performances across the board. The film really makes the viewer feel like they’re experiencing the hardship of slavery, which makes me wonder why it was such a mainstream hit. I’m glad it was though because it’s such a powerful and important film with an ending that almost moved me to tears.
The inclusion of Gaspar Noe’s notorious rape-revenge shocker should elicit no surprise from readers who know their stuff about the disturbing side of cinema. Irreversible is one of the most unpleasant experiences you can have whilst watching a film, yet it remains as one of my favourites. The film is an extraordinary achievement and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The hallucinatory camera work is mesmerising to watch as every scene is done in one continuous shot. A method Gaspar would later use to even more mind-blowing effect in Enter the Void.
Irreversible is the tale of a couple in love (Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci, real-life partners) who attend a party, only for Monica to be brutally raped and left for dead in an underpass, leaving Vincent hell-bent on revenge. What makes the film strange though is its backward structure. The film begins with the tragic ending and ends with the hopeful beginning and a title card saying ‘Time destroys everything’ which suggests that our lives all lead up to one horrifying moment. If that isn’t depressing enough for you then perhaps seeing a man’s face destroyed by a fire extinguisher and the most brutal rape scene in cinema history (it’s 10 minutes long and the camera doesn’t move an inch) will have you thanking the Lord for your joyous life… That is until, time destroys it of course.
7. Breaking the Waves
A list of crushing films wouldn’t be complete without a bit of Lars Von Trier. Breaking the Waves is often considered his best film and I wouldn’t necessarily argue with that. Whilst my personal favourite Lars film is still yet to come (patience, my dears) Breaking the Waves definitely comes a close second for me as his best film. It follows Emily Watson on electrifying form, in her film debut (Oscar-nominated. Should’ve won.) as a simple, God-fearing Scottish woman who falls madly in love with Stellan Skarsgard’s oil-rig worker, Jan. That is until he gets bashed on the head, becomes paralysed and convinces Bess to prostitute herself.
It’s a very intense film to watch because Bess’ descent into degradation feels so natural. It’s painful because Bess is such a sweet woman and some truly awful things happen to her. The way Lars captures the love between Bess and Jan is truly inspired. It feels so natural and pure, making it all the more hurtful to watch. The film packs an incredible emotional punch with an ending that may perplex some people, but I found it quite beautiful. Breaking the Waves is no easy watch and I came very close to breaking my waves i.e. Crying.
6. Lilya 4-Ever
Lukas Moodysson was known as the masterful Swedish filmmaker who was the king of feel-good without it feeling too corny. His second feature, Together, was a wonderful comedic drama which celebrated the Hippy movement in 70’s Sweden. That’s why it was such a shock to see him make something as unbearably devastating as Lilya 4-Ever. It’s a film set in a poverty-stricken part of Russia and follows 16 year-old Lilya (played shockingly well by the young Oksana Akinshina) whose dreams of starting a new life in America are crushed when her mother callously abandons her and leaves her to the mercy of the cruel real world.
Lilya 4-Ever feels painfully realistic with its documentary-style directing and terrific acting. It’s another film that almost moved me to tears as you feel completely immersed in Lilya’s world. What makes it worse is that she’s such a lovable character who tries to make the best out of really crap situations. Things escalate from bad to worse to the very worst. I don’t want to spoil the experience by saying what happens, but needless to say that Lilya gets mixed up in some pretty dark things. What makes the film painfully sad is that Lilya isn’t the only one to have this story. Children are subjected to vile abuse everyday and Lilya 4-Ever is a powerful reminder of this.
5. The Seventh Continent
Michael Haneke is the king of portraying alienation. All of his films feature very long takes and aren’t afraid of showing the darker side of cinema. His most famous film is probably Funny Games which is a powerful comment on movie violence and how far you can push the boundaries. However, people seem very unfamiliar with Haneke’s debut film, The Seventh Continent. It follows an everyday family doing everyday things until it becomes clear that they’re planning something.
That’s all I’m going to say on the plot and I’d recommend not reading anything about this film. I stupidly found out the revelation before I watched it, although I’m sure it was no less harrowing to watch. The Seventh Continent will probably bore most viewers for the first hour or so, but I’d urge you to stick with it. The final 45 minutes are some of the most disturbing images I’ve ever had the displeasure of viewing. It’s an incredibly powerful and moving film and one which you’ll probably never forget.
Oh, Martyrs… My wonderful, wonderful Martyrs! In my opinionated opinion, Pascal Laugier’s, Martyrs is not only one of the best modern horror movies ever made, but one of the best movies ever! My love for Martyrs is obvious for those who love foreign horror as much as I do, but for those who aren’t aware of this masterpiece, to outline the story would be to completely crush its genius. It basically follows a girl who broke free from a strange torture chamber and hunts down her captors. What follows is an emotional mass of unpredictability that will play on your knowledge of the horror genre in a similar (albeit, less zany) way to The Cabin in the Woods.
But Martyrs is so much more than a horror movie. Martyrs kicks an insane emotional punch and the final half hour is notoriously hard to watch and will probably be the decider in whether you like it or not. For me, the final scenes are haunting, powerful and perfect. Some call it exploitative torture-porn, but I’d have to disagree. Torture-porn is violence for the sake of violence. Martyrs is much more profound than this, and I don’t think torture-porn is supposed to make you well up quite like Martyrs does. It’s a masterpiece of a movie, and another one which almost makes me cry every time I see it.
Now we arrive at one of the two films on this list to actually make me cry. Michael Haneke rears his beautiful old head again and brings two more old heads with him! Amour is his latest film and is also probably one of his best. It’s the simple tale, that we’ll all probably have to go through at some point, of watching the one that you love die. I like to think that I’ll be lucky enough to find someone to grow old with and Amour showcases this, but focuses solely on the most Earth-shattering latter years leading to death. Emmanuelle Riva (on Oscar-nominated form, should’ve won) is astonishing as Ann, the woman whose health is slowly deteriorating in front of the very eyes of the man who loves her the most.
What makes Amour stand out against Hollywood tear-jerkers (e.g. My Sisters Keeper) is that it remains completely unsentimental and detached. Haneke isn’t trying to manipulate his audience in any way, he’s just showing us what happens when we get old and it’s incredibly moving to watch. The scene that actually made me cry was towards the end when Ann (now unable to move or speak) refuses to eat because she wants to die, and Georges gets frustrated with her because he doesn’t want her to go and hits her. It’s just utterly devastating to watch and the entire film is full of this intense power that doesn’t let up until it’s over. There’s no remarkable story or anything, it’s just the story of life, and it’s a painfully haunting one.
2. Requiem for a Dream
Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream remains in my top 10 films of all time. It often appears at the top of lists for depressing films and it’s not hard to see why. The film is basically two stories. One follows Ellen Burstyn (Oscar-nominated, should’ve won) as an elderly woman who’s looking forward to appearing on television. However, she’s determined to fit into her red dress so takes some diet pills, only to become addicted with devastating results. The other story follows her grandson, Jared Leto who has a beautiful girlfriend, Jennifer Connelly and loyal friend, Marlon Wayans. They all have a zest for life and full of dreams, but unfortunately become uncontrollably addicted to heroin, again with devastating results.
There are no happy endings here folks. Whilst the film is rated ‘18’ for its explicit sex and violence, I think it should be shown to every 14 year-old across the world, for this is far more powerful than any PSHCE lesson. It’s a highly effective and devastating watch that nearly omits tears from me every time I see it. Aronofsky’s directing is simply magnificent. It’s incredibly disorientating and intense to watch. The final half hour is almost unbearably intense to watch and will leave you completely and utterly drained of life. The way things get worse and worse are as unnerving as Eileen sitting on the wall crying. Requiem for a Dream is a masterpiece and one of the true greats of depressing movies.
1. Dancer in the Dark
Literally every one of Lars Von Trier’s films has a heavily bleak element to it. His most hopeful films feature the end of the world and a woman dangerously addicted to sex (no joke). Dancer in the Dark however, takes the absolute biscuit as the most depressing film, not just that Lars has ever done, but I have ever seen. It’s the last instalment of his Golden Hearts trilogy (it followed the previously mentioned Breaking the Waves) and my personal favourite film of his. Dancer in the Dark actually made me sob out loud. When it was over I went straight to bed and couldn’t stop thinking about it. It haunted me for weeks and still haunts me to this day. It’s probably the most heart-breaking and powerful film I have ever seen.
Dancer in the Dark follows Icelandic pop God, Bjork (on electrifying form) in her first and only acting role (it’s been said that Lars and Bjork despised each other on set and Bjork was unfortunately put off acting for life) as a simple-minded Czech immigrant who’s slowly going blind. She does all her best to save up all the little money she has to pay for her son’s eye operation to prevent him from going blind too. Without spoiling too much, Bjork’s life goes from bad to unbearable and the only way she can escape her reality is to sing and pretend that life is a jolly 60’s Hollywood musical. The final moments in Dancer in the Dark are almost too painful to watch. Lars pulls no punches on the misery and the ending has got to be the saddest of all time. It’s the cinematic equivalent of an iron-fisted sucker punch to the gut, and it’s also a masterpiece.
So we’ve finally made it through these soul-crushing tear-jerker’s. Don’t you feel happier about your life now? Whenever you’re down, just thank God that you’re not having a life like John Merrick, Solomon Northup, Alex, Bess McNeil, Lilya, Anna, Georg, Lucie, Anna, Georges, Anne, Harry, Marion, Tyrone, Sara or Selma. That is of course unless you are a deformed, suicidal, drug-addicted, 80 year-old slave prostitute. Then you’re pretty much done for. Please let me know if you think I should’ve included anything else and thanks for reading!
Regrettable omissions: Grave of the Fireflies, Schindler’s List