A friend recently asked me why death was such a prevalent theme in my own filmmaking. After attempting to form an articulate way to respond, I finally told him that death doesn’t interest me at all. What interests me is how people deal with the loss of someone they love. That notion of ceaseless loneliness and dark isolation, that’s what I love to explore.
So when Andrew Kendall of Encore’s World of Film asked me if I’d like to be part of his annual Motifs in Cinema blogathon, I was eager to expand on why I think 2013 was a great year for loneliness in cinema.
I could argue that loneliness and/or isolation is prevalent in most films I love in any given year. In 2013 alone, notable films like Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Frances Ha, Her, Mud, Nebraska, The Past, 12 Years a Slave, Upstream Color, and plenty more, were rooted firmly in the conflict of character isolation.
Below are five films from last year that perfectly demonstrate what it means to be lost, or lonely, or isolated from those around you. Some are less obvious than others, but they all share a theme of seclusion that I find utterly compelling.
All Is Lost
Two very well regarded movies from 2013 concerned themselves with literal, physical abandonment – Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost. Cuarón’s film is the more technically impressive of the two, but I felt that Chandor’s nearly dialogue-free picture was more accomplished at exploring how people react to physical isolation. Much of this is anchored in Robert Redford’s career-best performance as a man stuck on a sinking ship, defined by the immobility of his aged physique. All Is Lost was a startling display of how a person behaves after, as its title suggest, the idea of hope is removed from one’s survival.
Blue is the Warmest Color
Blue is the Warmest Color is a remarkable encapsulation of the loneliness that so often accompanies love. It’s the concept of wanting what you can’t have, and not fully appreciating it when you do have it. The young, impressionable Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is lost in the sexual confusion of her own mind. She initially follows societal norms by meeting a cute boy and trying to fall in love with him. But there’s something missing – a spark that’s lacking, a response that isn’t fully engaged. And when that blue-haired spark enters Adèle’s life, she’s unsure how to handle it, ultimately resulting in a final shot of simple yet haunting character isolation.
The horror of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt is that it forces the viewer to put themselves in the shoes of its main character. How would you respond to going from a once-beloved member of society, to suddenly being a monster accused of molesting children? Would you fight back? Would you disrupt public gatherings? Or would you sit at home, alone, in the dark, contemplating an easy out? As Lucas, Mads Mikkelsen fleshes out all of these concerns with equal weight. I don’t think I was as worried for, and angered by, a 2013 film character more than Lucas.
Inside Llewyn Davis
The most interesting thing about Llewyn Davis is his self-imposed isolation. He’s a bitter singer who blames the rest of the world for his problems. But the truth is, the only person Llewyn can blame is himself. Sure, life has dealt him an occasionally shitty hand (as it does everyone), but by choosing to completely neglect responsibility, Llewyn juggles between two personas: the pitiful struggling artist, and the spiteful tortured genius. He’s really quite a despicable, manipulative character, one void of compassion, but endlessly compelling to watch.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is a fun example for this post, because it’s about a guy who has no real relationships in his life, despite being constantly surrounded by people. People who, in times of duress, prove to not really give two shits about him, only what he’s worth. What makes Jordan Belfort’s isolation so unique is that he never really acknowledges it. He never complains about how no one understands or pities him. He simply goes along for the ride (his ride), and is eventually left with a sea of staring strangers, wondering how they too can capitalize on his worth.