It’s no secret that life sucks pretty much all the time. We don’t exist in the sheltered happy-go-lucky Leave it to Beaver world where all of our problems are resolved in 30-minute intervals. We’re all old enough to have witnessed events that show just how awful human beings can be.
The even more fucked-up irony about human nature is that we love watching others endure terrible events. We might feel sympathetic, but there is entertainment value in it all. It’s rare to see films that precisely capture the harsh realities of existence with a grippingly negative tone and directorial sleight of hand—image after image of moral disgust we can’t look away from because of the contradicting fact that we want to look away.
Do you find yourself considering ending it all? Is finals week putting you over the edge? Watch these five movies and you’ll realize a week of filling in Scantron sheets isn’t so bad compared to, I don’t know, drug addiction or prison rape:
The Basketball Diaries
Leo DiCaprio had to do some pretty shitty things before drawing Kate Winslet naked or taking down Wall Street. Marky Mark also had to hit rock bottom before Dirk Diggling his way into Julianne Moore’s strange or smoking weed with a teddy bear. Yes before all that fun stuff, these two 20-something actors had to play a couple of fun-loving pieces of junkie shit who fuck up their entire lives by falling into the tormenting world of heroin addiction.
Depictions of drug addiction in movies are hit-or-miss most of the time, but The Basketball Diaries really dumps on your mood for a few good reasons. First, it’s set on the cold crappy streets of New York City where no one really gives a shit about your problems, especially if you’re a torn-up weasel looking for a fix. Two, it’s about high school kids, which strikes a more innocent chord than watching old dudes shoot smack. And C, there’s this one scene where Leo is banging on his mom’s apartment door, screaming for money, and basically scaring the shit out of her. I’m a cold calculating cynic but even that scene got me.
A lot of people don’t know about Billy Bob Thornton’s diversity; he’s been typecast in most of his recent movies. We think of him as a swearing, sex-addicted boozehound who doesn’t give a damn about anyone else, especially the little league baseball team in Bad News Bears and the fat little dweeb Thurman Merman in Bad Santa. It’s no coincidence the two have “bad” in the title.
Many don’t know that he wrote, directed, and starred in arguably the best movie of 1996. In Sling Blade, Thornton plays Karl Childers, a mentally disabled southerner who murdered his mother and her lover and is released from the mental hospital at the film’s start. The entire film shows how alone he is outside the hospital and how he still can’t cope with how shitty people are. He also kills again at the end of the movie, reinforcing a sad lack of positive change that we often see in our relationships with others. Thornton’s portrayal alone is enough to make you uneasy.
The Shawshank Redemption
Give me your worst, trolls, but I’m declaring this the greatest movie ever made. It has the most uplifting plot of any movie I’ve ever seen as well as teen heartthrob Morgan Freeman’s best narration ever. RottenTomatoes also gave it 99% audience approval and IMDB ranked it #1 on its list of top 250 films. But what do they know, right?
The film is extremely sentimental and has a triumphantly satisfying ending, but you have to journey through a lot of darkness to get there. A prison guard beats a wailing prisoner to death early in the movie. An 80-something-year-old who served 50 years hangs himself after being released because he can’t cope with how fast this new world moves. The bleak realities of imprisonment and institutionalization hit you with sledgehammer force and show Frank Darabont’s sense of realism. Vinny Chase was smart for being in his movie.
American History X
The one thing most people take away from this movie is how degrading and gruesome curbstomping someone is. Not in a Gears of War kind of way but in a grazing-your-teeth-on-a-sidewalk-before-hearing-your-skull-split-open kind of way. It’s terrifying how creative filmmakers can be about murder.
Edward Norton kills it (no pun intended) as a reformed neo-Nazi trying to prevent his younger bro from traveling down the same sadistic path. The film mostly focuses on Norton’s pre-jail life as an anarchist skinhead trying to eradicate the “social parasites” surrounding him. On another level, it analyzes the racial and economic issues that have prevailed throughout American history. I couldn’t have brought that more full circle if I tried.
Requiem for a Dream
Intense, harsh, raw, sick, disgusting, shocking, staccato, relentless, excessive, destructive, high, unpleasant, graphic, fast, ludicrous, fucked-up, remarkable…
Disillusioned. I had never seen this movie despite many of my peers telling me it’s the best bad time I’ll ever have. If any of you are self-proclaimed film whores like I am, this movie definitely popped into your head when you read the title of this article.
This movie sucks. It’s the shittiest thing I’ve ever done to myself. It’s absolutely miserable to anyone with eyes and a moral sense of guilt. Never has drug addiction been such a visceral and visual horror to the senses. If you never want your arm to turn purple and possibly become amputated, treat this hour and 40 minutes as a how-to guide.
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