This week’s Roundtable topic comes from Drew. It’s a complicated one, so let us explain. Movies that make you physically uncomfortable aren’t necessarily bad movies, though some of them may be. OK, maybe most of them are. Others may actually be good, though. Or at least artistically worthy on some level. But, for whatever reason, they provoke a strong physical reaction that puts a knot in your stomach and makes you squirm in your seat. Does that make sense? If not, then give our choices a read and see if that clears it up any.
Special guest blogger Mrs. Z is also back again this week to provide a female perspective.
Below are our picks. Since Drew chose the topic, we’ll let him lead the way.
- ‘Antichrist‘ – Lars von Trier’s ‘Antichrist’ was reviled by critics and audiences when it premiered at Cannes in 2009. Sometimes, you see a movie with that sort of reputation and can be both turned off and creeped out for different reasons altogether. Many people were actively put off by what unfolded on screen. They cringed, cried foul, and generally were made sick to their stomachs by the film’s opening penetration shots (not performed, incidentally, by the stars Willem Dafoe or Charlotte Gainsbourg) and, later, by a lot of blood-spattered genital mutilation. In my screening of hardened New York City critics, the biggest gasp came when Gainsbourg, having been driven mad by a devious cabin-in-the-woods following the death of her child, masturbates Dafoe’s erect-but-mangled penis, causing a fountain of blood to spray from its tip.Yes, this is admittedly gross; I’m not going to try and say that it’s not. But at a certain point, the movie stops being a psychosexual exploration of two people grieving (like Nicolas Roeg’s masterful ‘Don’t Look Now’) and starts to be just a campy, unmoving, son-of-‘I Spit On Your Grave’ exploitation flick. Personally, what really grossed me out and made me want to go home immediately to take a shower, pausing only to excavate the invisible bugs that had crawled under my skin, was the movie’s underlying misogyny. This is made abundantly clear when, having defeated his evil spouse, Dafoe is joined by the spirits of dead women everywhere. Many of them (we assume) went crazy and tried to chop their respective husbands’ penises off with a hatchet. After the movie, von Trier joined the audience via Skype, since he won’t come to America. When asked about the batshit craziness of Gainsbourg’s character, he coolly replied, “If you think she’s crazy, you should have seen my mother.” In that one instant, he explained so much.
- ‘Jesus Camp‘ – I racked my brain on this one trying to think of a non-documentary film that made me feel the way that ‘Jesus Camp’ did, but I just couldn’t. Horror flicks scare me and sad movies make me cry, but at the end of the day I know they’re fake. So I don’t really get squeamish about them. But ‘Jesus Camp’ – yikes. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a documentary about a particularly radical evangelical Christian bible camp. At the camp, kids learn that that they need to “take back America for Christ” and be a part of an “army of God.” The camp leader demonizes Harry Potter for being a witch, and fills young children with her political views. It may not sound like much, but it’s a very hard film to watch, unless you’re on that side of the religious and political spectrum. I don’t want to start a religious or political debate here, but seeing incredibly young children indoctrinated in this way is terrifying to me.
- ‘The Informers‘ – A lot of people love them, but any film adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel makes me cringe. And the ones about the wasted, narcissistic youth of L.A. have made me feel so dirty, I had to resist the urge to shower afterwards. I didn’t think any film could be more unpleasant than ‘Less Than Zero,’ but then came ‘The Informers,’ one of the author’s earliest works and probably the least deserving of a motion picture treatment. Drugs, sex, booze, and kinky stuff galore infuse this rambling tale of lost souls who roam from party to party indulging their hungry libidos and insatiable appetite for narcotics. Even the parents of these parasites have no redeeming qualities. Toss in some awful performances by Billy Bob Thornton, Winona Ryder and Mickey Rourke, and some awkward attempts at comedy that fall totally flat. Then you’ve got one of scummiest pictures to hit the screen in ages. Amber Heard walking around half-naked for most of the movie kept my eyes open, but just barely.
- ‘Dancer in the Dark‘ – At the risk of turning this article into a referendum against Lars von Trier, I really can think of very few movies that make me coil up into a tightly-bound ball of rage the way that the director’s alleged musical ‘Dancer in the Dark’ does. In this case, my problem with the film isn’t just the tragedy and abuse that the main character (admittedly, played surprisingly well by odd-duck pop star Björk) suffers throughout the story – and believe me, suffer she does, at the hands of every other character she encounters. No, what really makes my stomach sink is the fact that all of this tragedy is brought about entirely by the escalating series of bad decisions that the character herself makes. At every single point in the story, she does precisely the wrong thing. At a time when she could easily extricate herself from her predicaments simply by telling the truth and explaining what happened, she decides to clam up. Even though she faces certain execution, she refuses to do anything to help herself. And for what purpose? What is the point of all this? Essentially, there is no point, except for von Trier to get his rocks off by making another woman suffer on camera. Even if this film offers up less graphic physical torment than some of his others (like, say, ‘Antichrist’), it still amply demonstrates that the director’s raging misogyny is far, far out of control. As I watched it, I found myself barely able to hold back from screaming at the screen. Watching this movie gave me an ulcer.
- ‘The Baby of Mâcon‘ – More than a decade ago, the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston held a retrospective of art house darling Peter Greenaway’s films. The highlight of the series was a screening of the director’s controversial and rarely shown ‘The Baby of Mâcon,’ which was attended by Greenaway himself. While not a crazed fan like my husband and seemingly everyone else in attendance, I had an appreciation for some of Greenaway’s previous work including ‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’ and ‘Prospero’s Books.’ So I had at least a vague understanding of what I was about to see. And I’ll admit I was intrigued by the opportunity to see something considered so taboo that it was effectively banned in the U.S. The film makes bold statements about celebrity, religion, corruption, and the ever increasing public appetite for voyeurism. It confronts the audience with all manner of offensive imagery including a very graphic goring and the dismemberment of a child. But of all the horrors this film offers up, it is the gang rape scene that pushed me over the edge. It’s not so much graphic as it is sickening and misogynistic. I know some people argue that the point of great art is to provoke a strong reaction. Perhaps that’s true, but I found this film so vile that I truly wish I had never seen it.
Now it’s your turn. What movies have made you physically uncomfortable?