This weekend, my friend and I were killing time while we rode the LIRR into Penn Station. We’d already caught up on what was going on in our lives, so our conversation inevitable turned to the realm of pop culture as it is wont to do when I am one of the participants. Inspired by my post last week on movies that always suck you in when you come across them, we started discussing the opposite phenomena: movies that we thought were good, but that we had absolutely no desire to ever see again. The films were just too heavy or sad to warrant ever wanting to re-watch them in the future. These are movies that you like and appreciate, but that you don’t own or decide to sit down to watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Unlike movies like Anchorman or The Shawshank Redemption, if I come across these movies on cable, I don’t linger on them and usually quickly change the channel. This is a testament to these movies; they clearly took me to such a dark or uncomfortable place that I don’t feel the need to experience it again. For a film to generate that kind of emotion, it has to be well done. This is obviously a very subjective thing; while our lists had some overlap, we also had some very different selections. I know that I tend to dwell in the “dark and disturbed” area of cinema more than most people, so some movies that were upsetting to others may not have had any impact on me. Some films may strike a more personal chord than others – parents, for example, may have a harder time with films where a child is hurt or killed than non-parents. But I think we have all thought at one point “that was a very well done film and I hope I never have to watch it again.”
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
This is an excellent film and I think it should me mandatory viewing; it does a much better job of discouraging drug use than any PSA or after-school special ever created. Requiem for a Dream takes a real look at the horrors of drug addiction; it is dark, gritty and takes you to some places that you would rather not be. The acting is uniformly excellent – Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Oscar for her performance and this may be the best use of Jared Leto in the last decade. The film is beautifully shot and is extremely powerful. It’s a great movie, but it’s not a movie to enjoy; when the credit rolled, I found myself sitting there, emotionally drained and slightly stunned at what I had just witnessed. Extremely well done and I’m glad I watched it, but I can’t imagine any circumstance where I’d want to endure it again.
American History X (1998)
This film cemented for my Edward Norton’s status as a great actor. I’d thought he was very good in Primal Fear and Rounders, but his turn as a neo-Nazi in American History X showed his range and what he was capable of. I’m not one to normally be bothered by violence in movies – I don’t think you could watch as many horror movies that I do if I was – but the scene at the beginning of the film when Norton kills two African American men is just brutal. I never looked at a curb the same way again. Again, a great movie that has something important to say and is a fascinating character study, but not a road I’d want to go down a second time.
I had my problems with this film, but still thought that overall was well done and told an interesting story. I wasn’t as shocked at the story as some people, but I also have several friends that are social workers and I’ve heard some pretty awful stuff over the years. I don’t know if I would have sought that movie out if it hadn’t been nominated for several Oscars that year, but I don’t regret seeing it (even if I did see it on Valentine’s Day). It had a story to tell and temporarily gave a voice to some of the more voiceless members of society. But the film is just too depressing to ever contemplate watching again; there really aren’t many happy endings for these situations. It is just too sad a place to ever revisit. I honestly don’t know how the people in real life who come across people like Precious every day are able to cope. It’s all just too heartbreaking.
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
I remember calling up my mother as soon as I was done watching Hotel Rwanda to tell her that she had to watch it. Don Cheadle was phenomenal as the hotel manager that took in Tutsi refugees during the slaughter that was the Rwanda Civil War. I was in high school when the atrocities in Rwanda were committed and I just wasn’t as aware of what was going on in the world at that age. So to watch this film knowing it was based on a true story and that I had been blissfully unaware of the severity of the situation overseas had a tremendous impact on me. I just sobbed through parts of the film. Hotel Rwanda was a movie that I needed to see, but I wouldn’t willingly bring myself to that place ever again.
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
I’m not on the Hillary Swank bandwagon – I find her annoying and think that she is kind of overrated – but even I can’t deny that she gave a very powerful and emotional performance as a transgendered young adult. The intolerance and brutality would be difficult enough to process, but add to it that this is based on a true story and that it didn’t happen that long ago and this movie was extremely difficult for me to come to terms with. I couldn’t help but think of my LGBT friends while watching it and my heart just broke for them. The thought that they experience even one iota of that kind of hatred devastates me. If I sobbed during Hotel Rwanda, Boys Don’t Cry nearly broke me. I can say with absolute certainty that I will never watch that film again.
I think I’ve actually depressed myself just writing about these films. They are all excellent and should be seen, but they are just too much for me to ever want to seek them out to watch again. I’m not a masochist. These films were powerful enough with one viewing to make a lasting impression.
What films can you respect, but can’t re-watch? Sound off in the comments below.