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10 Movies That Totally Destroyed You

 

Never underestimate the power of films to make you feel. They can be the light that leads you out of the darkest fog or they can dump you in one; they can make you profound love and poignant loss; they can embolden you and knock you down. And in every case, those extremes tend to be the ones that you’ll talk about the most.

Just as you remember the harshest heart-break and the densest grief, the films that leave gaping emotional wounds tend to be the most memorable. You might not want to watch them more than once, but there ought to be special praise reserved for the films that manage to leave you broken in pieces. Sometimes, all that takes is a single scene…

10. Forrest Gump

Paramount Pictures

Some will say that the cynical way Forrest Gump manipulates its audience with sentimentality and melodrama should preclude it from consideration alongside some of the more raw films here, but that would be a disservice. Discounting what Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks achieve in terms of emotionally authentic scenes DESPITE that sugary agenda is nothing short of incredible.

You should know from the outset that things aren’t necessarily going to go well, considering Gump’s story is essentially a potted American history (and that’s not all sunshine and buttercups), that he will lose loved ones and that there will be attempts to make you feel sad. And yet, awareness doesn’t help at all when Forrest meets his son and asks Jenny whether he’s smart or whether he’s like him.

In that one beautiful, devastating moment, you come to realise that despite his defiance of bullies and his cheerful outlook that he KNOWS what he is. That he wouldn’t wish his “condition” on anyone else and that absolutely winds you.

9. Melancholia

Nordisk Film

Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, if its title didn’t give it away, is all about sadness. The first half follows Justine, suffering through an intense depressive episode on her wedding night, while the second half focuses on her sister Claire’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that the world is about to end.

The first chapter in particular, which is just pure abject misery put to screen, revels in uncomfortable, intimate sequences of self destruction. Watching Dunst’s character, on what’s supposed to be the happiest day of her life, completely crumble while under the watchful eye of her friends and family, is horrible, in part because it’s far too relatable.

Things get more abstract and existential in the second half as the entire world is literally about to explode, but it’s still kept personal and grounded not only by the intimate filming techniques Von Trier adopts, but because the apocalyptic scenario perfectly reflects the crippling fatalism Justine feels every single day.

It’s not totally free of the director’s occasionally eye-rolling trappings, but Melancholia is undeniably a difficult, harrowing – yet powerful – watch from beginning to end.

8. About Time

Universal Pictures

Sure, Toy Story 3 is one of the greatest examinations of mortality laid out in accessible terms and it’s very sad for a while there, but the whole point of that movie is to offer hope of a happy ending despite everything. About Time, on the other hand, is all about the inevitability of mortality as a means to express the vitality of life. It does that by basically saying “everything you love will die and if you spend too much time wallowing in the past, you’ll destroy yourself.”

It’s a heavy message for a romantic sci-fi about time travelling, but that’s arguably why it’s such a successful film. We watch Domnhall Gleeson’s Tim discover his ability to travel back in time, guided by his sage father (Bill Nighy on sublimely charismatic form) and everything’s fine until it turns out his father has terminal cancer (via the revelation that Tim’s accidentally wiped his own child out of existence) and no time travelling can fix it. From that point, watching Tim try to accept his father’s death and the final reveal that he can’t visit him any more in the past is pretty much like having your heart plucked out.

Ultimately, the message is as sweet as Nighy’s father figure’s advice to live life without the tensions that stop us enjoying it, but it comes at a hell of a cost. Particularly for anyone who has lost someone that vital to them.

7. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Focus Features

Charlie Kaufman has always been a great writer, but sometimes his movies can lose themselves in their own gimmicks. No matter how weird and confusing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind gets though, everything feeds back into the relationship between Joel and Clementine, and their beautiful, gut-wrenching time together.

Tying the plot around an idea anyone who’s dealt with a breakup has no doubt thought about – if we could erase our memories so we didn’t have to ponder over what could have happened with an ex-lover, would we? – Eternal Sunshine jumps through different stages of the duo’s relationship, from the great honeymoon period to the bitter breakdown at the end.

Of course, this is all wrapped up in the final revelation that the two have been involved in this cycle of dating and then deleting each other for years, destined to repeat the same process over and over again

6. One Day

Focus Features

The best romantic films are the ones that hurt a little. When Harry Met Sally puts its characters through the ringer, The Notebook likewise and even Blue Valentine is beautiful to watch in its own heart-stomping way.

You can also add Lone Scherfig’s adaptation of One Day to that pile as well, since it has one of the most horribly effective emotional rug pulls in the history of cinema. It’s essentially a long play romance (in the vein of When Harry Met Sally, actually) where two friends slowly realise they are made for each other after they unravel an intricately woven entanglement.

And then just as you think they’re going to get a happy ending, the plot drops two bombshells on them. Or more accurately, drops one bombshell (that they can’t have a baby) and then drives a truck over one of them (Anne Hathaway’s Emma). In one awful moment, the promise of happiness so slowly built to is destroyed and we’re forced to watch Jim Sturgess’ Dexter struggling with the loss of his one.

5. Up

Disney Pixar

When thinking of movies that leave you a hollowed out mess, sitting alone in the dark gently rocking back and forth, it’s usually the end that has caused it, or at least a recurring feeling across the movie.

Up, though – y’know, the film that’s ostensibly *for kids* – manages it in its opening 15 minutes, with a montage telling the love story of Carl and Ellie that is more romantic, emotionally affecting, poignant, and devastating than most ‘adult’ movies manage in two hours.

It begins as a heart-warming tale of falling in love, sharing dreams, and growing old together, which turns into a heart-wrenching echo of loss and loneliness. However, as much as that opening is guaranteed to have you reaching for the tissues, you’ll be going back to the box by the end of the movie too.

Much of what follows might be a relatively light-hearted romp, but its messaging, and the journey it takes Carl on as he finally gets to realise his dreams, make the kind of connection he’d given up on, and honour Ellie’s memory, culminates in beautiful fashion, although at least this time it isn’t tears of sadness.

4. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Artificial Eye

If you’re currently enjoying any of Ezra Miller’s work in the big blockbuster franchises he’s now part of, you have Lynne Ramsay’s explosive adaptation of We Need To Talk About Kevin to thank for bringing him to everyone’s attention.

Miller plays the titular Kevin, a “troubled” teenager whose darkness turns out to be considerably more profound than it initially appears as we see the story of how he came to commit a high-school massacre. It’s essentially like watching a horror movie origin story as Kevin’s behaviour (particularly towards his mother) steadily gets worse and builds a map of his evil.

The true genius of the film is that we watch it all through his mother’s eye (those of Tilda Swinton, who is as incredible as Miller), who struggles with him but also loves him even as she suspects he killed his sister’s guinea pig and blinded her in jealousy. Eventually, the awful climax – which knocks the air out of you – reveals that he killed some of his schoolmates with a bow and arrow, as well as his father and younger sister. It’s a hell of a thing to watch and not one you’d rush back to quickly.

3. La La Land

Summit Entertainment

Musicals tend to be uplifting affairs, filled as they are with singing, dancing, and an overabundance of joy.

La La Land does, to an extent, carry this same feeling, from the sun-drenched opening number to the swooning romance between Emma Stone’s Mia and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian. However, just when it looks poised for things to go the way you want – the way you’d _expect_ them to – Damian Chazelle pulls the rug from under you and rips out your heart on the landing, with the reveal that Mia and Seb don’t end up together.

The trick to making this land with such impact is that they’ve already broken up once, so you’re thinking they’re guaranteed to end up together. It’s Old Hollywood; it’s nothing can hurt you when it’s in technicolour; it’s Golden Age romance; it’s another day of sun, a city of stars, where everything is bright and shiny and happy and then BOOM.

All of a sudden you’re on the floor, the wind knocked out of you, and it’s beating you about the face like Jon Snow hitting Ramsay Bolton in Battle of the Bastards.

Ryan Gosling gives you a look, a nod, and it shatters your very existence.

2. Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father

MSNBC Films

Without a doubt, Dear Zachary is one of the most personal films ever made. Director Kurt Kuenne pretty much took on every role behind the scenes in order to get the movie made, writing, editing and even doing the music himself in order to do its story justice.

That’s because the bulk of the documentary is about his close friend Andrew Bagby, who was murdered by his ex lover, Shirley Jane Temple, in 2001. Initially intended to be nothing more than a home movie for Andrew’s son, Zachary (hence the title), as the narrative develops the focus shifts, as events unfold into one of the most compelling and tragic true-crime tales ever put to film.

While the real-life events themselves are harrowing, it’s their impact on the rest of Bagby’s family that’s the most heartbreaking. The fallout of his death never seems to end, haunting them years later, with his parents in particular moving from one horror to the next.

Not everything is easy to take in, and it can feel completely hopeless at times, but by the end you’ll be sobbing because of the small rays of sunshine that are found in between the trauma; the resilience of the human spirit and the positivity of good people who’ve come face to face with pure evil.

1. Blue Valentine

The Weinstein Company

You always hurt the ones you love.

Blue Valentine makes such a statement – sung in the movie itself by Ryan Gosling, accompanied by some Oscar-worthy dancing from Michelle Williams – unbearably true.

Playing out in two different timelines, it features a young couple at the very outset of their courtship, and years later at the end of their marriage. Carried by its two leads (neither of whom have ever been better than they are here), it simultaneously manages to make your heart swoon and break, effortlessly switching from the heady, butterflies-in-the-stomach romance to the gutting, desperate fight their relationship has become.

The tragedy of the movie lies in how Dean and Cindy can’t stop loving each other just as sure as they can’t stop hurting each other, with their daughter caught in the middle. It’s love, it’s hate, it’s the need to let go and the need to cling on. By the end, after so much back-and-forth torment, much like their relationship itself you’ll be relieved that it’s over, but forever grateful it happened.

 

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