What one week of emotional films taught me

Written by AdamDFelman

So, I’ve had a perpetual stormcloud hanging over my head for most of my waking hours during the last ten days or so.

So, I’ve had a perpetual stormcloud hanging over my head for most of my waking hours during the last ten days or so. Call it a heat hangover from August, or having to return to work after a holiday, or having my bed frame collapse under my newly developed summer gut. Call it whatever you want. I’m simply gushing ill will and spite towards humanity.

So what better way to eschew this general malaise than watch some life-sapping cinema every night for a week? Either it will absorb my sadness or make me realise how much better my life is than my often ill-fated protagonists’. I will give each film two scores, because having just the one is boring. The first score will let you know how good the film actually is. The second is a scale of depressing from 1-10, ‘1’ being puppies and ‘10’ being We Suck Young Blood by Radiohead (I’m not kidding, listen to it and try to want to stay alive. I dare you.)

Day 1: Shame

I started with a newer film, Shame, starring Michael Fassbender, Michael Fassbender’s irrepressible veal flute and the practically edible Carey Mulligan. Doug Stanhope’s standup routine, about sex being one of the least intimate thing a person can do to another person and always ending in an underwhelming ‘BLURT’, is this film’s touchy subject matter, Fassbender playing a sex addict whose troubled sister turns up and invades his personal life. It slowly builds up the profile of Fassbender’s character quite literally being a massive w*anker, and having meaningless (and quite explicit) sexual encounters, without being able to forge any kind of relationship. He is sad, lonely, quiet and unravels quite spectacularly towards the end. Like any film about addiction, it doesn’t end well for anyone. The performances are terrific (see: the weirdest, most beautiful rendition of New York, New York) and the direction is slow and deliberate. It just made me feel like arse. 8 for the film, 7 for the depressing (there’s some humour, flappy penises and slight redemption at the end to lighten the mood).

Day 2: Requiem For A Dream

And onto probably the textbook gruelling addiction flick: Requiem For A Dream. Edited and directed like a hyperactive child and whimpering crack fiend all at once (the early Aronofsky way), the film simultaneously follows a skag dealer and his TV-obsessed mother as they combat addiction – really ineffectively. The last ten minutes is maybe the least pleasant thing ever filmed due to the sheer brutality of the editing and the culmination of the already disturbing narrative. Needless to say, it’s not exactly an advert for smack. Amazing performance from Ellen Burstyn, and Jared Leto, Jennifer Connolly and Marlon Wayans all hold their own. It’s a very good film, if dated. I just didn’t enjoy it at all, bar the sly satirical digs at America’s opportunist medical system. 7/10 for the film, 9/10 for ruining my evening and the sleep thereafter.

Day 3: The Mist

It got to Wednesday and my spirit was a little crushed. So I thought I’d venture into some horror. Stephen King does that pretty well, I surmised. I’ll try The Mist. I was in that corner of Netflix anyway. As it turns out, this is a legitimately scary movie, without an excessive HA HA YOU’RE GOING TO SHIT YOURSELF soundtrack or OTT acting (bar the only human antagonist, who serves the film as a comment on religious zealots that gives it some socio-political weight). The film covers a mysterious mist (misterious? HIRE ME) that engulfs a town and contains a host of strange creatures waiting to kill everything. There is a horrible scene with spiders. Blood happens. The ending is brutally ironic. I just wish Thomas Jane had acted it well. 6/10 for the film, 8/10 for miserabilia for THAT ending. Horrid.

Day 4: Amour

Thursday rolled round, and I was in a better mood. What better way to celebrate the upturn in events than watching Amour, a film by one of the Euro-kings of miserable, Michael Haneke, about an old couple dealing with a stroke? As heart-punching as it was, I genuinely loved this movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an ordeal. It really does get across just how long and agonising almost all moments of old age are, and the moments in which they dwell on the beauty of life are punctuated heavily by the tragic shuffling waltz they involuntarily perform as our protagonist tries to move his paralysed wife from room to room. The shots are seemingly endless, and the music is solely diegetic – there is no soundtrack. What’s great about the Amour though is the way it mainly operates in the spaces between the drama.

Both performances are measured and graceful, the characters are well rounded and the suffering is palpably real without anyone being hysterical. They are truly empathic but have the flaws to stop them being artificial. It’s a real love story, straight from the gut. 9/10 for the film, and 6/10 for the sad. I should feel worse, but it’s too good.

Day 5: The White Ribbon

Haneke so greatly impressed me that I decide to watch his other Palme D’Or winner, The White Ribbon, which on the surface is about a spate of mysterious and savage practical jokes in a fictional pre-WW1 German town, and at the root of it is about the children of German moral absolutism being psychologically poisoned as a precursor to the Holocaust. There’s not a whiff of Nazi doctrine here, but religious overzealousness, heavily regimented upbringings and vengeful, spiteful adult behaviour all point to the softening of the earth in which the Fuhrer’s seeds were to be sown.

Shot in mournful black and white, Haneke paints a harrowing, disjointed and enigmatic picture. By this point, however, I was too tired (and quite frankly shaken) from the other films this week to fully understand it and absorb everything. It’s a bewildering film. 7/10 for the film, although I’m open to persuasion, and 8.5/10 for miserable due to the a withering conversation between two lovers that makes the skin crawl.

Day 6: Happiness

I felt like a break from flesh-curdling nihilism, so set my sights on a comedy. Still within the realms of appallingly bleak cinema, I picked up Todd Solondz’s ensemble piece Happiness, only to be hit with a wave of flesh-curdling nihilism. Explaining the various sexual deviancies of these characters would double the word limit (I’m already WAY over it) but needless to say, you can’t unsee Philip Seymour Hoffman’s willygunk splotching against a wall.

That’s just the start. Both he and Dylan Baker give startling performances, the film is directed with a raised eyebrow and the sheer incredulousness of some of the moments genuinely makes you laugh out loud. You’ll just hate people afterwards. 9/10 for both scores. I have very few words that can sum up how much this film sticks with you for both great and awful reasons.

Day 7: The Lion King and Maltesers

And on the seventh day, he rested. A) He ran amok with the word count and B) he simply couldn’t take any more. You learn a lot of painful truths from these films, some universal, some historically specific. Some are cruel for the sake of it. Sometimes a simple, deluded soul wants to get on with everyday life not worrying about strokes, or Nazism, or paedophilia, or Thomas Jane’s massive bumchin. Sometimes a simple, deluded soul wants to eat Maltesers and watch The Lion King.

N.B. Watching The Lion King, it turns out, was a colossal mistake.