Carey Mulligan, Michael Fassbender in ‘Shame’/Images © Fox Searchlight Pictures
Have you ever seen a terrific movie, and from the moment the credits roll you realize you will never watch it again? Specifically, we are talking about dramas that are masterfully created, brilliantly acted and directed, but ultimately, due to their upsetting subject matter, make you cringe at the thought of experiencing them a second time. While we acknowledge the importance of reading books and viewing movies that take you outside your comfort zone, sometimes once is enough.
On a related note, we were stunned to learn that controversial filmmaker Spike Lee has a remake of classic Korean revenge flick “Oldboy” in the works. In case you aren’t familiar, “Oldboy” is based on the popular Japanese manga comic series that tells the story of Oh Dae-su, who upon his release after a fifteen-year imprisonment has five days to find and kill his captor. It’s a brilliant and visceral film but has the distinction of having one of the most upsetting twist endings of all time. We will have to think long and hard before committing to seeing Spike Lee’s interpretation of this tale on screen. The “Oldboy” remake got us thinking about other cautionary films. With that said, the following ten dramas are brilliant but lethal to our serotonin levels if seen more than once.
It is impossible to take your eyes off Michael Fassbender (for a few reasons) in 2011′s “Shame” in his role as Brandon: an attractive, successful man in his early thirties who has to hide his ravenous sex addiction when sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) decides to unexpectedly visit. Director Steve McQueen demands the viewer draw his or her own conclusions from the film, as no suggestions are offered as to how Brandon became so depraved, or more importantly, if he will ever be able to lead a normal life.
Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road about a father and son trying to survive in an unforgiving, post-apocalyptic world was a grim yet poetic story on the page, but became even more disturbing to watch as the 2009 film, starring Viggo Mortensen. Though a bleak story, there are rays of light that seep through in the form of Mortenson’s tender relationship with his son, and the extent to which he goes to preserve the boy’s humanness throughout their depressing existence. We always advocate reading the book before seeing the movie, and in the case of “The Road,” we consider it a prerequisite: The movie won’t be nearly as worthwhile without having Cormac McCarthy’s beautiful prose running through the back of your mind.
Jack and Rose, err, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet decimate the American Dream as young married couple Frank and April Wheeler in director Sam Mendes’ adaptation of Richard Yates 1961 novel, Revolutionary Road. The Wheelers first fall in love as bright-eyed optimists, but find themselves mired in a suburban rut soon after saying their “I dos.” To deal with the fact that their greatest fear of “becoming like everyone else” is coming true, Frank takes up a mistress, and April tries to convince him that they should start over with a clean slate in romantic Paris. “Revolutionary Road” offers a complex look at an unhappy marriage, and it is impossible to not applaud DiCaprio’s and Winslet’s performances. We also recommend reading the book in advance of viewing the movie, as knowing the internal dialogue of both characters is important to fully understand what is driving their behavior.
Kate Winslet seems to have a formula when it comes to selecting film projects: Her criteria tends to demand “book-based” and “depressing.” It clearly works, allowing her to flex her impressive acting chops. “Little Children,” which is adapted from Tom Perotta’s novel incorporates intersecting stories focusing on life in the suburbs, with characters that include an unhappy man and woman who begin an affair in their children’s play group, a registered sex offender, and an ex-cop with anger issues. “Little Children” brims with emotion throughout, often walking the line between laugh-out-loud funny and horribly upsetting. The film boasts an impressive cast in addition to Kate Winslet including Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Connelly, but the real star is Jackie Earle Haley as a registered sex offender who lives with his elderly mother. His scenes are one hundred percent the reason we have no desire to watch this movie a second time.
“House of Sand and Fog”
Buckets of blood are spilled vying for a California bungalow in Andre Dubus’ novel House of Sand and Fog, which was adapted into a 2003 feature film. Jennifer Connelly plays scattered recovering drug addict Kathy who is reeling from her husband’s abrupt departure and is then evicted from her house due to unpaid taxes. Meanwhile, Iranian immigrant Behrani (Ben Kingsley) purchases Kathy’s former house as a gift for his son and wife, to remind them of their home on the Caspian Sea before they had to emigrate to the United States. Kathy unleashes her emotional instability on Behrani and the two clash over possession of the house. We can’t believe that this beautifully and tragically rendered “House of Sand and Fog” is director Vadim Perelman’s first film — and because we’ll likely never watch it again, we wish we’d catch word of his next project.
“Leaving Las Vegas”
Remember back to before Nicholas Cage became a walking parody of himself, and was a well-respected actor? To us, his crowning dramatic achievement (second to “Adaptation”) is his Academy Award-winning performance in “Leaving Las Vegas,” in which he plays a raging alcoholic screenwriter, Ben, who loses everything and decides to end it all in Las Vegas by drinking himself to death. Before Ben can fully commit to his plan, he has a fateful encounter with prostitute Sera (Elisabeth Shue) that turns into an unexpected friendship. They make a pact to not judge one another on their respective life and career choices, which begs the question: Can you watch someone you care about hurt themselves without intervening? “Leaving Las Vegas” is based on John O’Brien’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, which is just as bleak and powerful as the movie.
“The Devil’s Double”
The most upsetting element of the 2011 film “The Devil’s Double,” about a man forced to become the body double of Sadaam Hussein’s sadistic son, Uday, is that it may have actually happened. Iraqi author Latif Yahia penned three memoirs about his experiences as Uday Hussein’s body double, and though his accounts have been challenged, the subject matter is jaw-dropping and at least partially rooted in truth. Dominic Cooper delivers a truly Oscar-deserving performance as both Uday Hussein and Latif Yahia. There were many scenes that induced nightmares, but our nomination for the worst was when Uday attends a wedding and forces the new bride to sleep with him.
“Requiem for a Dream”
We can’t think of a better PSA to keep kids off of drugs than “Requiem for a Dream.” Hubert Selby Jr.’s 1978 novel about four Brooklynites who each fall into debilitating drug addictions while trying to achieve their dreams was masterfully adapted into a 2000 film by Darren Aronofsky staring Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, and Ellen Burstyn. The last thirty minutes of this film lead to a truly upsetting crescendo: ultimately, a film from which we got enough with one viewing to last a lifetime.
It’s quite clear that a novel about an overweight, illiterate, black teenage girl living in the ghetto, pregnant for a second time with her father’s child, is not exactly a walk in the park. The novel Push by Sapphire, which was turned into the 2010 film “Precious,” is not an easy story to stomach, but is ultimately a tale that is as hopeful as it is horrific. First-time actress Gabourey Sidibe made us cry and cheer as sixteen-year-old Precious Jones, whose bleak existence takes a turn for the better thanks to a persistent teacher. While it was impossible to take our eyes off Gabourey, comedian Mo’Nique blew us (and the Academy) away in her award-winning performance as Precious’ abusive mother, Mary.
Before Ellen Page scored her breakout role as a snarky, pregnant teen in Diablo Cody’s “Juno,” she delivered a psychotically memorable performance in “Hard Candy.” Page plays Hayley, a teen who meets up with an older gentleman named Jeff, played by Patrick Wilson, after chatting with him online in an attempt to expose him as the pedophile she suspects him to be. The pacing of the film is relentless, and at times the suspense is unbearable: The cat-and-mouse game between Wilson and Page is hypnotic to watch, and ultimately, unforgettable to get out of your mind. In terms of vengeance flicks, this is among the best.
What other dramas do you love but will never watch again?