Suicide can be a tricky subject to tackle in film. So many directors have done it so many times, but few have done it in a true, honest manner which captures the essence of the complete emotional suffering that people contemplating suicide feel. My next list is of the nine best films about suicide, in no particular order but with the best film at the end.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
This heartbreaking tale of unexpected love during the gritty nights of Las Vegas’s smoky bars and the hopeless drunks who occupy them is surprisingly very emotional and beautiful, Nicolas Cage’s best film and one of the best films in general about alcoholism and suicide.
The Seventh Continent (1989)
I won’t say in what way suicide is involved in the plot of The Seventh Continent, but trust me, you want to see this amazing, shocking film about a bourgeois couple and their child whose empty lives become the focus of Michael Haneke’s glaring static camera.
The Virgin Suicides (2000)
I’ll admit this list was partially inspired by Stevee’s review of The Virgin Suicides over at Cinematic Paradox, and she’s right – this film is a quintessential masterpiece, a saddening tale about despair and the sadly all-too-often time when some teenagers reach the end of their rope.
I Stand Alone (1995)
You’ve probably heard of the director of this film, and maybe even seen his more famous films such as Irreversible and Enter the Void, but I Stand Alone is truly Gaspar Noe’s masterpiece, and the most deserving of his films of your time. It’s a depressing story of a meat butcher whose failed attempts to reconnect with his distant daughter lead to the ultimate suffering and eventual release. Haunting.
The Piano Teacher (2001)
Okay, so this film isn’t really about suicide. In fact, there is not a single death at all in the film. But it might as well be. The film deals with a sadomasochistic woman who gets pleasure from her own pain, and follows her inevitable spiral down the loophole of insanity. If you’ve seen it, you probably know what I mean by placing it on this list. She doesn’t die physically, but she dies emotionally.
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Again, this isn’t a film about suicide. Or is it? Those who’ve seen it know how it ends, and I can’t really explain why I’ve placed it on this list without spoiling it, so spoiler alert: at the end, Diane kills herself, and all the rest of the film is a dream. An intensely personal dream about the way she wishes things could’ve been, but in reality she’s a screaming wreck, led to a final act of poisonous desperation.
One of Robert Bresson’s more underrated and underappreciated films, Mouchette is nevertheless one of his best. It follows the exhaustingly sad story of a teenage girl who is beaten, abused, deceived, raped and lied to. It’s nowhere near as graphic as it sounds, but it is still incredibly sad and paved the way for so many films about teenage depression that followed. Yes, that includes The Virgin Suicides, which owes a heck of a lot to this movie.
Last Days (2005)
The final film in Gus van Sant’s “Death” trilogy deals with death in the most direct manner of all three. The film is about a fading rock star who barely says a word, and goes through his life questionably, with a hint of sadness. His friends try to help him, but he is determined that he knows what he’s doing, which leads of course to the unforgettable ending. The film that made Michael Pitt a star.
The Fire Within (1963)
I can think of at least a few people I know who are big fans of the film A Single Man. When I tell them I am not, they ask me why. A Single Man, I feel, is kind of a remake of Louis Malle’s astonishingly brilliant 60s French drama The Fire Within, except with a few obvious changes. The Fire Within is a far superior film. Easily the most haunting film about alcoholism and the most effective film about suicide, The Fire Within will lead you on an unforgettable journey in the last days of a man who plans to kill himself on a certain date. We see him travel about the town, reconnecting with his old friends in a bleak hope he might change his mind. But his fate is sealed from the beginning. And my eyes slowly watered during the film’s heartbreaking final scene.
That’s my list. Which ones have you seen? Which haven’t you seen? Any you agree with in particular, or do you hate them all? Leave a comment below.