Watching movies that ruin your night
A couple of weeks ago, I finally got around to watching the 2010 film “Never Let Me Go.”
An adaptation of a highly acclaimed novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, the movie is a compelling blend of science-fiction and coming-of-age film that depicts a world where medical advances have enabled people to live well past 100, but at a terrible cost: Cloned children are raised in isolation at private schools and facilities, and when they reach adulthood, their organs are harvested and given to nonclones. The film focuses on three friends destined for sacrifice and early death, and though I kept hoping they would find a way to escape their tragic fates, I sensed that a happy ending was not in the cards.
And I was right.
By the time “Never Let Me Go” reached its devastating conclusion, I felt like I’d been stabbed in the heart. If I was the sort of person who cried at movies, tears would have been streaming down my face. I idly wondered whether the film deserved a spot on my mental list of Movies That Will Ruin Your Night — movies that are so sad and bleak and anguished that they leave you shattered and emotionally drained.
And yet I was impressed by what I’d seen.
Just as I was impressed with “The Deer Hunter” and “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Ice Storm” — other films on my list of Movies That Will Ruin Your Night. None of these movies were fun to watch, but they were riveting — well-acted, well-written, expertly filmed, insightful and provocative. And yet I can understand why people might balk at the idea of watching them. After all, not everyone wants to have their night ruined by relentlessly depressing cinema.
In fact, most people go to the movies to be entertained.
I first became aware of this after I went to see the so-so 2001 Robert Redford spy thriller “Spy Game.” When my friend Marnie asked me whether I’d enjoyed the movie, I shrugged indifferently. “It was OK,” I said, which is my polite way of indicating dislike. “Entertaining, I guess.”
“I like entertaining movies,” Marnie said. “I really don’t want to watch any other kind.”
To Marnie, movies are escapist fun — she doesn’t want to watch anything that’s remotely unpleasant. And who can blame her? It’s easy to get where Marnie’s coming from. What’s harder to understand is myself.
Why am I drawn to films that are weird and disturbing and depressing? After all, nobody forced me to sit down and watch “Never Let Me Go.” I could have turned off the film as soon as I realized it was going to ruin my night. But I kept watching, awed by its intelligence, terrific performances and quiet, wrenching power.
Now, some people believe there’s more wisdom and insight to be found in darkness than in light, but I am not one of those people. I don’t necessarily think that “Never Let Me Go” is a deeper or more truthful movie just because it’s sad — I’ve seen too many friends struggle with mental health issues to glorify depression as a path to enlightenment. (Granted, the people most likely to glorify depression are teenage poets, who eventually grow out of this annoying habit.)
But I do think “Never Let Me Go” has interesting ideas and taps into real emotions, and that these qualities make it worthwhile.
Shortly after watching “Never Let Me Go,” I popped the 1989 Japanese film “Black Rain” into the DVD player.
This film opens with the bombing of Hiroshima, then jumps five years into the future to tell the story of a family living in the Japanese countryside and the sicknesses they develop as a result of radiation poisoning. As soon as “Black Rain” started, I steeled myself for sadness and pain, and the film more than met my expectations, raising the question of why anyone would choose to subject themselves to the film.
For me, the film was educational, telling the story of the atom bomb from a Japanese perspective and teaching me something about Japanese society along the way. I got a sense of how the wounds of war can linger, and of what it might have been like to live in a rural Japanese village in the years after the end of World War II. And the movie was beautiful — meticulously composed and filmed in lustrous black-and-white.
This week the notorious 2010 horror movie “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” arrived at my apartment.
I’ve been eyeing the Netflix envelope warily, trying to work up the nerve to watch it.
Some movie critics have described “The Human Centipede” as one of the most gruesome and disturbing horror movies ever made, and I’d been avoiding it. The reviews of “The Human Centipede” didn’t make it sound like anything I needed to see, though I like horror movies and seek them out occasionally. But my curiosity finally got the better of me, and I decided to put the movie in my queue so I could see what all the fuss was about.
Most people I talk to feel no such urge. “I have no plans to watch that,” one of my friends said, which raised the question of why I felt the need to watch it. As of this writing, the answer is unclear, though maybe I’ll be able to provide one after I watch the film.
In any case, occasionally I need a respite from all this cinematic gloom and doom.
I recently watched “National Velvet,” because it’s a classic film I hadn’t seen, and found myself delighted from start to finish. A few nights ago I watched “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail,” which was as zany and fun as I remembered it.
These films both put a smile on my face.
Which was exactly what I needed, after a few too many Movies That Will Ruin Your Night.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.