I don’t care what anyone says to the opposite, sadness is heavier than happiness. Happiness is light, and as easy as it comes, it floats away like a balloon some hyperactive child lost at carnival. But sadness weighs on your back, doubling you over. Sadness is real and like a dog with lock jaw, even if you want to escape it, you can only escape it when It lets go of its own desire. For that reason alone, sad movies can be dangerous to watch. The most poignant of sad movies act like a tick, and even though you may not see it, it digs its head into your flesh and sucks you dry, silently and unbeknownst to you.
It is what that somber thinking in mind I decided to assemble a list of movies so exhausting and depressing and bleak, they may actually drive a viewer who is depressed enough to commit the final, desperate act of suicide. Films so palpably hopeless, they bring you to the balcony and push you off it themselves. Now this does not make these films any less art, but it does mean some of you may want to heir on the side of caution if you are considering watching any of them. I watched them all and killed myself, it just didn’t stick. Real talk. Not kidding.
Read on with caution. Do not mistake this article as a dare, it isn’t. Leave these films alone if you know inside they won’t leave you alone after you see them. And remember, suicide is never the answer, people. Except for when it is.
But mostly, it never is.
As is usually the case, there is always one movie that inspires these kinds of lists, and Vinyan was the movie. You see, I am kind of a twisted fuck and I tend to like very dark things, so I spent many months SEEKING OUT these kinds of movies. I found a thread one day where a young man was talking about Vinyan and you could hear the hopelessness the movie left him with just in the tone of his writing. He said very little about the movie, but implied very directly the movie made him feel so empty inside that he wanted to die after seeing it. And though it took me some time to find it, the moment the movie ended I can understand why he felt that way.
Vinyan is about a couple who lose their son in an accident (drown on vacation during freak tsunami) but then they see footage of a wild tribe (near where they were vacationing at the time) and the mother swears one of the children in the video is her son.
So begins a desperate (and visually staggering) journey that takes her and her husband to the darkest and most unexplored corners of the Earth. Everything, from watching the couple grieve to seeing the mother’s indefatigable belief that her son is still out there makes for an emotionally draining experience that has a conclusion that will leave you in silent awe.
Yes, dark, seething hopelessness will infect you after seeing this movie, but I still find it one of the most powerful movies about loss ever made. And let it be known, the cinematography of the film is hauntingly beautiful.
A Serbian Film
This one divides some people for the simple reason that some think (natch, know) it intentionally TRIES to be as shocking a movie as possible. But what people need to understand about a Serbian Film is, every vile act you see on-screen works as a metaphor for what the director says the Serbian Government does to its own people. So while the film may be a vile exercise in human degradation, the creator did have a message in mind, as shocking and appalling (and deeply buried) as it may be.
Serbian Film is about a retired porn star who is starting to struggle financially and gets asked by an old friend to do “one final film” to trump them all. He gets offered an insane amount of money and after discussing it with his wife and then his (police officer) brother, he decides, hell, how bad can one last movie be?
Flash forward, he is drugged (with bull testosterone, as if this is an actual thing people can do) and all I will say without saying too much is, he ends up in the nastiest snuff film of all time, yet cannot control his own actions. Everything from (SPOILERS) beheading a woman with a machete and still fucking her while rigor mortis sets in, to a newborn baby getting (I refuse to type the word so use your sick imagination there to fill in the blanks) this is a movie that will take every ounce of strength you have to get through. And then, the last ten minutes of the movie happen and you decide the only way to erase that movie from your mind is by putting a bullet in it.
Seriously, Serbian Film is THAT fucked up.
But man, that theme song (from trailer above) is amazing. I can’t lie.
Anything by Michael Haneke (Amour, Funny Games, Cache’, Benny’s Video etc)
Michael Haneke is a director who changed my life (for the better) and doesn’t even know it. One of the first published articles I ever wrote was about his movie, Funny Games, and how it takes the viewer from being a passive witness to an active participant and leaves you feeling genuinely guilty and sick by the end of it. It is the article that ultimately turned me into a writer (as in, for a living), and that happened because of this man’s astounding work. But keep in mind, I am lucky. Most don’t walk away from a Michael Haneke movie feeling anything but pure hopelessness, turned up to its loudest. Why? Because Haneke makes movies about things that really happen, and he makes the devastation so real, it seeps from the screen into your own soul like black tendrils of poison.
But when it came down to picking one film from this man’s catalog to add to this list, I realized the list could have five more movies on it and all ten would be Michael Haneke films. From the sickeningly real home invasion you are a part of in Funny Games to the devastating realization that no love ever ends well as shown in Amour, Michael Haneke understands human suffering on a level most pray they will never know.
So pick ANY Michael Haneke movie and just know, you will not be the same after, and maybe not in a good way. I think he is genius, but I feed my demons so they don’t lash out,
Most people just stifle theirs.
Dancer in the Dark by Lars Von Trier
Make no mistakes, I had the same battle with director Lars Von Trier’s work as I did with Haneke, but decided for this entry (and next one, too, which came down to an extreme director as well) I had to pick one specific movie. Picking the most emotionally devastating Lars Von Trier movie is like trying to pick the candy that has the most sugar. You basically know they ALL do the trick. Regardless, as much as I almost went with Antichrist (and its genital mutilations) and almost went with Melancholia (one of my favorite movies of all time, go figure), I decided Dancer in The Dark starring eccentric musician and performer Bjork steals the cake. Allow me a moment to tell you why.
Bjork works in a shitty factory and has a degenerative eye condition which is causing her to go blind. She is struggling to raise her child as a single mother, and has an ambitious dream that America will solve all her problems. Does everything she can to get her and her son there, and any single thing that can go as bad as possible goes as bad as possible.The things this woman endures, and what we are made to suffer through along with her, is soul-searing. And did I mention the movie is a musical? I know you are thinking how can a musical be depressing, and here is your answer.
Please pay extra attention to lyrics:
“What about China, have you seen The Great Wall?
All walls are great if the roof doesn’t fall.”
Wow, just wow. And wait until you get to the ending. May as well have a gun ready at the night stand. Speaking of guns…
I Stand Alone
Now we have Gaspar Noe, another director who makes movies that are more like exhausting trips into broken psyches than actual films. It is hard to walk away from a Noe film not fucked up. Hell, it is hard to even get up and walk at ALL after watching a Noe film. And while some may want to put Irreversible up here (and it’s 9 minute rape scene with no cut aways and a CG cock made that very hard to ignore), it is the incest element to I Stand Alone that take the cake, by far. Where Irreversible is insight into how one bad day or bad decision can change the entirety of your life for the worse, I Stand Alone follows the Butcher (his real name in the movie, and a character who appears in most Noe pictures) as he starts on a downward spiral that just builds and builds until you are left with what I consider to be the most disturbing ending to any movie, ever.
SPOILER ALERT, the guy is sexually attracted to his young (maybe 13 year old) deaf and dumb daughter and molests her, and we think he blows her brains out and then his to spare them both a life of misery, but we find out that is just a dream in his head and he actually decides to stay alive and keep her alive and he then validates his incestuous love in narration to the audience as the movie fades away from them about to fuck. Sorry that was such a long sentence but I needed to get it out in one breath so I won’t throw up.
I know, a movie that depraved should be number one, but imagine if I Stand Alone was about a whole neighborhood of people like the butcher and you have the most (intentionally) ironic movie title of all time and our number one….
Do NOT let the name, kooky trailer, or A+ cast fool you. This is NOT the movie it is pretending to be. In that sense, it is brilliant. It tricks you into watching it through name and shiny exterior alone, and once you begin to peel the layers, you realize what you are really dealing with. Some truly upsetting and unsettling stuff. And in the realest and most palpable of ways. Happiness is a giant mirror showing us society right now, from how it pretends to be versus how it REALLY is when no one is looking. It is a black comedy in the most extreme sense, and that sense means some of the shit is so sick, you only laugh out of wild discomfort and the sad relatability that life sucks, we are surrounded by monsters, and our dreams die for valid reasons. Boom, welcome to Happiness!
What places Happiness higher than most of the other movies on the list is just how casually it handles grossly taboo subjects, yet taboo things that are happening all around us, every day. From perverts harassing woman on the phone to a kid who learns his Father is a pedophile and molests his friends, the other movies all have a sense of “movie” to them, and as gut-wrenching as they are, when someone is fucking a newborn to death in A Serbian Film (wow, I finally found the strength to type it after 1,300 words of this shit eating away at my soul), you KNOW it is a movie and a fake baby. But in Happiness when a sobbing kid asks his Dad if he’d ever “fuck him” and the Dad answers, “No, I’d just jerk off instead”, you know this is some real and really nasty shit. This is your neighbors. Your friends. You know this is the people living around you. Hell, with a couple of the sick characters in this movie, you might even see things that resemble your own family or yourself.
And if THAT nihilist thought doesn’t make you wanna blow your brains out all over the walls behind you, nothing will. More power to you.
Honorable Mentions (May Make you Cut, but Shouldn’t Make You Kill)
Requiem for a Dream
Martyrs, French version (though I find it life-affirming, most don’t)
House of Sand and Fog
What Dreams May Come
I Melt With You
Dear Zachary (this one should be number one but I have too much trouble talking about it)
By the way, please don’t kill yourself. Ever. Someone loves you (even if they don’t tell you enough) and it would devastate someone (or MANY) more than you think.