What is the appeal of sad movies?
An opinion piece and list by Jordan
While many students fervently unpack and extrapolate the collected writings of Shakespeare in appreciation of his use of the English language and ingenuity in crafting bleak tales woven with threads of brevity for translation to the stage, the great playwright certainly has a lot to answer for in introducing tragedy to the mainstream. If the discernible difference between tragedy and something tragic is inevitability, then certainly Romeo and Juliet remains the most influential tale of a sad, determined fate, to later inspire films harnessing a main purpose of emotionally affecting their audience.
The appeal of sad films, or tragedies, is that they can cement human or historical truths, being respectful and realistic, but this appeal can be lost when a narrative is intentionally designed to upset or incite tears, rather than being patient or delicate; honouring its characters and being worth emotionally investing in. Crying, or being moved, is not a natural indicator of a film’s quality, and similar to seeking the sensation of terror it is indeed a strange thing to desire. Directors can be manipulative, steering attention away from a situations finer details with focus intended to remain on the overly dramatic, in the hope of achieving this outcome with less effort. Sadness, grief and longing can be prevalent in many peoples lives, to the extent that a narrative should have to earn inciting these feelings and be worth experiencing them for; these feelings should come as a by-product of a thoughtful, careful production.
Some find entertainment in being scared at the cinema, being taken on a thrill-ride or laughing; others believe that a tragedy, hearkening back to those harsher times and Shakespeare and presented through a real-life sadness, is a more substantial use of the art form. Personally, there are many upsetting films I like and respect, but they originally appealed to me due to their story or style, and not promise of intense sorrowfulness.
Here are five of the films I find saddest:
5. Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Lars Von Trier is no stranger to controversy, and with his uniquely made musical drama divided audiences who either felt devastated by its injustices or irate at its bleakness. Bjork herself is said to have been so affected by the experience that she would not wish to act again. Dancer in the Dark is in many ways a film to endure, not to enjoy.
4. The Elephant Man (1980)
One of David Lynch’s most normal works is also his most gut-wrenching, being the story of a disfigured man forced into the side-show before meeting a man who could recognise him for who he really was.
3. Romeo + Juliet (1996)
The most widely regarded film version of the famous play is also from the most unlikely source, with Romeo + Juliet defying the time and location to infuse the iconic text with a Verona locale. Appealing to a generation who would play its soundtrack on loop and be inspired to delve further into the literature that inspired it, it’s vast success perhaps draws attention away from the melancholy it’s drenched in.
2. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Isao Takahata’s classic Studio Ghibli tale about a young boy’s attempts at protecting his sister after their mother’s death during WW2 is harrowing and, considering its studio and director, largely unexpected. Painstakingly beautiful in its animation, and emitting a message of hope and childlike optimism despite it’s terrible plight, it doesn’t linger on the sadness but rather the peaceful moments that surround it.
1. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)
Dear Zachary is a film that everyone everywhere should see. Made by Kurt Kuenne as a message to his recently deceased friend’s newborn son, sharing footage and anecdotes of his father, the heartfelt letter then changes direction as events surrounding his life are revealed. Watch Dear Zachary, and ensure it to be with no prior knowledge of its content.