Five Incredibly Bleak Films

The Road

Listen, I like hopeless just as much as the next guy, but for some reason, when it involves children, it seems to hit that much harder to take. I also walked away from this film feeling like  the ending was a bit more ambiguous and less hopeful than how most interpreted it. Thinking of living a ravaged life in a dying world, where you are constantly worried about how you will eat and how you will survive is tough enough, you add the thought of having to keep a child alive as well, and it is that much more harrowing.

Note just how happy they both look in this candy coated world.

The minute you find out the gun the Father is holding has two bullets in it in case him and his son need to commit suicide, you know how light hearted this journey is going to be. And some will cry foul and say the book is better than the movie, and I will not argue that, But this is not a list about books, sadly.

This is another film that, just like Antichrist, is visually arresting even though what it is showing you is truly ugly.

Though I have avoided spoilers thus far in this article, I am afraid there will be some *SPOILERS* here so skip ahead if you have not read the book or seen the movie, but intend to.

Viggo Mortensen is one of those actors who can truly do no wrong.

(Spoiler Alert) So he Father character dies, and the son gets approached by a new group of rag tag survivors, led by Guy Pierce, who claim they are of altruistic intent and have been following the family for some time. They then take the son in, and that is all we get of that. And for some people, it was an AWWWW moment for a lot of people. Some people took comfort in the fact that the new survivors had children in the group. But why is that good?

But let’s not forget, the world at this point is overrun with cannibals who want nothing more than their next meal at this point. Pretty much every human they come into contact with up to this point has tried to murder, rob, or eat them, and in most cases, all three. So what makes you think this new family are not just finding a quick and easy meal?

What makes you think the second the Father deer dies that the wolf don’t come in and surround the weak doe, readying to pounce?

Pretty hopeless, huh?

Grave Of The Fireflies

A cartoon? WHAT?!! What kind of tomfoolery does this Remy cat think he can pull off? If anyone actually read these articles, that is what I would imagine them saying upon reading this article. But anyone who has seen the movie is looking at this, thinking: good call.

Because Grave Of The Fireflies can make me weep like a small child. Hell, it can make ANYONE weep like a small child. Which is ironic, because there are small children in it. Who weep.

I get slightly choked up even talking about this movie.

Grave of the Fireflies is a story about a two orphans who are left to fend for themselves after the death of their parents during the end of World War 2. And though that may seem heavy enough, it really just adds layers and layers as you go. By the end of this film, your soul feels like it weighs a million pounds inside your body and your heart will feel like it is breaking. This may seem like an exaggeration for the sake of an article, but know, it is not.

Seeing a Dad struggle to keep his son alive in The Road was tough enough, but seeing a 14 year old boy trying to keep him and his 5 year old sister alive is brutal. And you would think the animation would potentially pull from the power of the story, but this is Studio Ghibli animation we are talking about. It ADDS to the power of the story.

I sometimes talk about how Pixar can summon emotions in me that I feared were long numb. Well, this film takes the emotion you can get from an animated film and multiplies it, tenfold.

This is how you feel by the time the movie finishes.

Even famous film curmudgeon Roger Ebert sings the praises of this film and the power it has to shift the thinking about just how deep and meaningful an animated movie can be. I really need to stop talking about this movie now, because it is messing me up. Yes, it is that hopeless.

But my goodness, is it beautiful.

Honorable Mentions

People are going to ask why Requiem For a Dream is not on the list, even though I bring it up, so here it is. Pi, Dareen Aronofsky’s debut, is just as bleak, if not moreso.

There Will Be Blood: Nothing like a little love between family.

Dancer In The Dark: This one should be on the main list, but Bjork performance in it wounded me so badly I refuse to discuss the film.

Irreversible: Don’t let the revenge scene fool  you, (Spoiler) they kill the wrong guy. And don’t let the reverse ending fool you, nothing good happens.

Eraserhead: Eat LSD, watch this movie, then shrivel up and die inside.

Clockwork Orange: Amazing film, but hopeless through and through. But again, amazing film.

Melancholia: Another beautiful Lars Von Trier movie that will make you want to kill yourself.

Melancholia is about the end of the world. And marriage. No subtext there at all.

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  1. As I was reading your article I was thinking ‘Grave of the Fireflies, Grave of the Fireflies.’ What a horrible film! It makes Requiem, Trainspotting and The Road look like feel-good flicks. If I could erase the memory of it out of my brain, I would.

  2. The Mist.

    I remember the audience being silent as a graveyard at the end (myself included) for good damn reason. Darabont gave The Mist the ending to the story Stephen King never really finished.

  3. I love your comment about Dancer in the Dark. While I find it more bleak than anything on this list since I recall the first time I sat down with my girlfriend to watch it, she was pouring tears at the end I had never seen her so broken down with a film as Dancer in the Dark she was gone the whole night.

    I would have also placed Brokedown Palace as well on such a list.


    When it comes to The Road it seemed to me as if the only natural ending would be for the kid to kill himself. I mean what would have been more depressing than a father doing all he can to make sure his son can live on and then for his son to commit suicide moments after his death. Instead Guy Pearce stumbles along and pretty much says “Well shucks come with me little boy!”. It felt really disjointed from the rest of their ordeal and was pretty much the only bad thing about the film.

  5. I have to admit, making this list was somewhat devastating. But these comments just cheered me up. I am a simple man.
    Good call on Gummo and Kids, but I find those movies, especially Gummo, more disturbing than depressing for some reason.
    Good call on The Mist, too, but I have put it on so many lists I have done, I just wanted to not retread.
    Also, Mr Jim, I feel you on that, but (SPOILERS for The Road) I am semi-convinced they were following them like a pack of wolves, waiting for the Dad to fall, so they could feed on the kid. THAT is how messed up my head is.

  6. Speaking of genital mutilation: Jack Ketchum’s Girl Next Door. FML

    Gummo isn’t really that bleak. It’s just really fucked up. And closer to the reality of country life than I’m comfortable with.

    Barefoot Gen. Seriously, it almost make Grave of Fireflies look lightweight. Almost)

    I think you’ve mentioned Plague Dogs before, Carreiro, but I’m bringing it up again because goddamn that shit is BLEAK.

    End of Evangelion for the animated trifecta. An hour and a half of maiming and destroying every last bit of one of the greatest and most beloved animated series ever made in one of the most amazing apocalypses ever concocted.

  7. Nice list; of course “Grave of the Fireflies” had me sobbing.

    One film that is heartwrenching on a specific topic is Revolutionary Road.

    Watching Di Caprio and Kate Winslet’s once beautiful marriage crumble is awful, not on the scale of the other films on this list, but nevertheless painful to watch.

  8. Anyone stupid enough to think animations can’t be bleak never saw X The Movie.

    And anyone who doesn’t think that animations have and will destroy(ed) even the best live-action films is retarded and haven’t seen a lot of things.

  9. Remy, I’ve been coming here for almost a year now and your lists are the shining spot of the site. Your viewpoints on movies are great and it seems like you’ve seen a ton (I have too, most of the movies on your lists read like a weekend rental binge I would have when I worked at a video store). In reading this list, I would love to hear your impression on the movie, The Razor’s Edge. Starring Bill Murray, it’s a drama that takes place right after World War 1 and how he goes about trying to find inner peace after seeing the horrors of war. One of my all time favorites but man is it a downer. Nothing like the ones on this list but it still acts like a glass of ice water on the crotch. Check it out if you ever have a chance.

    P.S. – Rumor has it that Bill Murray actually told the studio that the only way he would star in Ghostbusters would be if they made this movie and he starred in it.

  10. @Joe, all great examples, but I would argue MORDUM. If we were going for fake snuff, this list would be a million miles long.
    @Trashcanman. YES, anything by Ketchum (The Woman, as well) and calling me “Carriero” just reminded me of every gym teacher I ever had, and it genuinely made me LoL. Thank you for that. Yes, to Plague Dogs. In hindsight, the name should have been a fair warning to us all. Hahaha.
    @ Nick, SUPER good call. The dissolution of marriage is brutal to witness. Blue Valentine is another example of that.
    @ Mutant Turd, Why thank you very much, good sir. That is very work-affirming, and very nice to hear. I have not seen Razor’s Edge, but will on your recommendation. I am a Murray fan and have no idea how I missed that film. Also, the name reminded me of River’s Edge with Crispin Glover. A movie I saw in my early teens that sort of effed me all up.
    @ Sams, awesome call. What is it with Winslett and depressing films.
    And regarding Martyrs, I have spoken of that film MANY times in depth, and though it is bleak to some, if the girl (SPOILERS) see’s God (which she must have, because she is at such peace in those final scenes when she is skinned) than how is that bleak? She goes to Heaven, and the bad people go to Hell. I found it inspiring, actually.
    I skinned my arm last week as a sort of collect call to God.
    Didn’t work.

  11. @Joe, all great examples, but I would argue MORDUM. If we were going for fake snuff, this list would be a million miles long.

    I think it’s bleak because there’s no sense of redemption or justice or anything. There’s nothing to take that taste out of your mouth after you’ve seen it.

    I forgot Salo. How could I forget Salo. That’s a pretty bleak film too.

  12. One more thing. If you haven’t seen the “Love Conquers All” version of Brazil, find it and watch it. What it is is basically the studio’s cut of the film. They made it to have a “broader appeal to the audience” and to also show as a TV edited version. It’s amazing what a studio can do to a movie through editing.

  13. My mom brought home Grave Of The Fireflies, none of us expected to see what we saw in it. After the first five minutes I was tearing up. I’m glad you added Grave Of The Fireflies, because….even you mentioning the movie…it just…*sniffle* I never…NEVER want to see that movie again.

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