Psychologically Dark Movies for the Intellectual Mind
Let's face it. We live in a society that is sopping wet in the blood of cinematic violence. There are fawning fans who like those shoot-em-up movies, who crave to see how depraved they can get with their depictions of blood and guts, but some of us actually want substance to make us uneasy. We crave for the old traditions of mystery, intrigue, and bold reflections of the seedy underbelly of society. I started watching black and white Twilight Zone episodes when I was very young and I remember being surprised and delighted by every ironic and often moral ending. As an adult I still want this! But it is becoming harder to harder to find in a culture that praises gore far higher than it does intellectual creativity. So I have decided to write a list to share with you all of movies that tickled the darker regions of my own mind. Some of them are violent but never needlessly so.
Freaks has long been a cult classic. In fact it was filmed in 1932 and is so politically incorrect that it could never be remade today. It is about a ruthless gold digging woman who finds herself trying to seduce a circus freak for his riches. The only thing is that even though Little Tom Thumb is painfully oblivious the rest of the circus freaks are not... where will this tension end? You'll just have to watch and find out... Just be aware it will ask the question who is the real freak?
Rosemary's Baby is an old classic that weaves together a wonderful tradition of mystery and intrigue. It's old, so it goes pretty slow in comparison to today's movies but I think it is still worth it to hear the creepy theme song and join a young woman's journey to deliver her first child. From that description it sounds peaceful and idyllic but she's slowly coming to realize there's something wrong with her pregnancy and she suspects it's the people around her. Of course this movie falters in the fact you can only watch it once and be on the edge of your seat. After you have all your questions answered it's not exactly a mystery anymore... but it's still a nice little film.
American Beauty is one of those films that you either love or hate. For me it was an introduction into independent films and I loved every second of it. I don't think there's ever been a better depiction of what's really going on behind the white picket fence. It tackles real issues but doesn't give you any answers. It is raw in its depictions of one family and their normal, yet off-kilter, lives. I don't know about anyone else but I could almost feel the seething rage of the person writing the script and his not-so-subtle social commentary on an average suburban family. It is artfully sculpted, beautifully written, and quietly tragic.
The opening scene of Heavenly Creatures is completely exploitative. It shows two teenage girls running madly through the woods covered in blood, screaming at the top of their lungs. Such an image is bound to get your attention but the rest of the film is pretty devoid of any sort of violence. It tracks two pubescent lesbians in 1950s Australia as they meet, grow close, and conspire not to be separated. You really get to feel for the two girls who face profound prejudice for something they as of yet don't even understand themselves. This movie is based on a true story and even though you know the ending from the first scene you are practically crying out for it not to be so. Its tragic, disturbing, and eye-opening.
Pan's Labyrinth is a fairy tale set in a war. Because the war needs to be prevalent in the story there is quite a bit of violence but that soon takes a back seat to the intricate and complex story that starts to come to light. Shot through the eyes of a young girl who still believes in fairy tales this film shows the desperate measures some people had to take just to survive during the war. It weaves these intense realities into a world of whimsy and fantasy which ultimately wins out. I cannot say enough about the mastery that went into this film. The scenery, the characters, the general artfulness of it it bound to take any one's breath away - but it is not a movie for children!
Mary & Max
Mary and Max is an Australian claymation picture. You might think, as I did, that it's for children because of this, but suffice to say I am sure most American audiences would not approve! It's about Mary, the eight year old daughter of a severely alcoholic woman and a man who spends more time stuffing dead birds he finds aside the highway than with his own child. That's sort of sad and can almost be looked around but then Mary decides to write to a completely random person in America that she finds in a phone book. A few days later a 40-something year old man with Asberger's Syndrome receives the letter and the two start an innocent if not completely messed up correspondence. While Mary is asking where babies are from Max is telling her about his work in a condom factory and about how at the age of four his mother commits suicide. Every character in the movie is seen with unflinching and almost unbearable honesty showing each and every one of their flaws as something unique and special. What starts out rather sweet winds down some pretty topsy-turvy roads and by the end you're so involved with the characters you're lurching and yelling, "No!" at all their various misfortunes. It's hard to explain but this movie is both sweet and innocent as well as dark enough to make your head spin for a few weeks. Thoroughly enjoyable either way.
The Dreamers is another one of those uncomfortable looks into yet another sexual taboo - consensual incest. It is set in 1968 Paris with violent protests taking place just outside the doors of a very luxurious apartment. The two occupants of the apartment, a brother and sister, take on a doey-eyed American student who they quickly start using as mental dental floss. They treat him as a cat would treat a mouse and he takes it while at the same time providing a reluctant moral compass. He knows there's something strange about the two but will he ultimately reject their love for each other or inspire it to go further? We're brought along in a whimsical world consisting of mostly just the apartment where the dynamic of the trio twists turns and knots up in unconventional ways. The only part of this movie I didn't like was it's ambiguous ending. My boyfriend says it wasn't ambiguous at all but I'm an American and like things spelled out not left hanging in the air for the imagination to fill in. That's what books are for.
A Clockwork Orange
This is another film with a lot of violence but unlike modern films it has a purpose - and the purpose is to ask a series of moral questions. What causes an individual to be violent? Can they be cured of these tendencies? And if they can should they be? At what cost? These questions are proposed in the second half of the movie with the violence sees its consequences, giving the more intellectual among us reason to watch. I read the book before I saw the movie and I must say the book has a few features the movie does not - including in the British print version a shot at redemption which I feel was a better ending. That being said it is dark, socially disturbing, and came from a brilliant mind. If you can't read the lyrically wondrous book (or stomach its additional violence) then the movie is a pretty good substitute.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a real trip. It's a modern day rock opera about a boy growing up in a walled up Berlin, who is convinced by a man that the best way to flea the country was to have an operation and become his wife - the only hitch was the operation was botched, giving Hedwig and "angry inch." The movie then progresses to show her struggles in the new country, her singing career, her battles with relationships and plagiarism. It's a raw portrait of a fractured individual and has something for everyone. This isn't to mention the music is amazing, far better than I expected when I watched it.
I love this movie because it's a lovely depiction of what happens when a gifted teenager, or rather two, learn that they can use sex to wield power. At first you would be forgiven if you think this is just about two pervy step siblings that will screw anything that walks by them, but it's so much more complicated than that. As the movie continues you learn it's not about sex at all, it's about the power to manipulate everyone around them. The plot line warps, bystanders get burned, things get more deliciously complicated. You'll laugh at times, cringe at others. Of course the most beautiful aspect of this film is the fact it's American and served with a cold dish of redemption. Even that comes at a cost but it's worth it.This is a film of anti-heroes.
Requiem for a Dream
This is another dark glimpse into suburbia. It's a movie based on the premiss that we may all be skating on a knife's edge, just waiting to fall. There are the drug-addled lovers who spiral deeper out of control and then there is a prescription-popping grandma who just wants to loose a little weight. The juxtaposition is marvelous, the soundtrack is repetitive and strange, and the plot line is enough to suck you into a fit of weariness, empathy, and sorrow.
Neverland is a low-budget film with terrible acting, and I do mean terrible. It rates up there with the last middle school play I had to endure. And the script is deliriously bad as well. You can easily get the impression that a porno could have had snappier dialogue. With that all being said it's the idea of this film I find intriguing. You see it is an updated version of Peter Pan and it is unflinchingly dark. Peter Pan and the Lost Boys are not children living in some whimsical heavenly place - they are runaways who have decided to inhabit the tunnels underneath an amusement park called Neverland and who have chosen to never grow up. Wendy is an adopted child in a rich family that she feels only took her in to make themselves look better. Tinkerbell is a fairy - selling fairy dust to all her wayward pals. Tiger Lily is a drag queen and worst of all the infamed Hook is a masochistic pedophile trying to get his hooks around Peter. If you like twisted updated retelling of fairy tales then this is the movie for you! I was just disturbed how easy these changes came to the original story!
The Ballad of Jack and Rose
This movie was one of the most uncomfortable things I have ever seen. The main character is an aging hippie who lives alone in what used to be a commune with his sixteen year old daughter. The sweeping beautiful scenery is what got me at first but the story will drag you in. You see Jack is dying and his daughter Rose has been kept cloistered on the property for her whole life when puberty takes her off her feet. There's a really uneasy truth that pretty much anyone would find unsettling and that is Jack accidentally raised his perfect woman and Rose has no other men in her life to idolize. This movie is slow, painfully awkward, and warps a situation in a way you didn't think was possible leaving behind more questions than answers. It's brutally mentally and emotionally unsettling.
Pretty much everyone thinks The Wall is Pink Floyd's best selling concept album. What fewer people know is it is also a rock opera and a really disturbing one at that. If you like the music of Pink Floyd it is a must see. There's very little dialogue and a lot of singing with a lot of weird and slightly disturbing imagery. It follows the life of a boy as he grows, becomes a man, and eventually goes completely mad. Perhaps the reason it is so gut-wrenching is it is at least partially autobiographical and I think even not knowing this you can sense it.
Donnie Darko is a bit of a cult classic too. It is mostly whimsical and kind of cute, except for the scary bunny which has you constantly wondering what he is and why he's there. It's an odd little story, well acted, and in a sense very sweet but also tragic - like Romeo and Juliet if they met at a mental hospital. The follow up movie was terrible though... so don't even bother with that one.
This movie was based on a guy who many believe was America's only remorseful serial killer. What is it like to be a serial killer so horrified by his own actions that he has to take to drinking himself unconscious every night? What drives a person like that? I think this movie did a good job showing the whole complex mindset here. At points you'll feel sorry for him, understand what he's saying, and in the next you'll be just as confused as he is staring at the body of his latest kill. There is a lot of dialogue in this movie which really fleshes out the conflict - far more so than the depictions of his malicious deeds smattered throughout the movie.
This movie is practically unknown today, being shot in 1927. It's a real peculiar thing, one I am hard pressed to compare with anything. It is about an armless man working in the circus who falls in love with a woman who is afraid to be held or hugged by a man. You'd think this match would be perfect except for two problems - she has put him decidedly in the friend zone, and he actually does have arms which he's been hiding for years. This really bizarre drama escalates and intensifies and ends in some really odd predicaments and ironies. A lovely old piece worth watching just for its sheer uniqueness.