In space, no one can hear you scream. That is, ostensibly, the distillation of what appears to be the latest and greatest film from director Alfonso Cuaron. Entitled Gravity, the film is easily the most anticipated film of this fall season, and with it comes what will hopefully be a heavy dose of thrilling (both emotionally and, hopefully, intellectually) science fiction headiness and an even heavier dose of icy cold isolation. With star Sandra Bullock spending much of the film’s runtime on screen by herself and firmly on her own, the picture is yet another example of cinema attempting to discuss themes as troubling to mankind as alienation, isolation and loneliness. Here are ten others that try to do the same thing.
You never thought loneliness could be this warm and full of life, did you? A groundbreaking work from Jean Pierre Jeunet, the film follows the story of a shy waitress who only knows loneliness (she was even homeschooled), but tries her absolute best to break free of this isolation through helping other people. One of the warmest and most vital pieces of cinema ever made, this film hit theaters in 2001, and still feels like a film far beyond its years. As original a piece of cinema we’ve seen this century, the film is often cited as a rather standard pick for hipsters when proclaiming their “favorite films,” but this is truly a film without a fair comparison. It’s just unlike any film you’ll ever see.
9.) Wild Strawberries
Very few directors did introspective meditations on human existence quite like Ingmar Bergman. This film is no different. Victor Sjostrom plays a professor who, with death knocking at his door, must deal with his life, what lies ahead, and everything in-between in this truly breathtaking meditation on the isolation and loneliness felt by those nearing the end of their lives. With gorgeous, career-defining photography from Gunnar Fischer and direction from Bergman that would mark one of his most interesting aesthetic works, Wild Strawberries is both a brooding and optimistic look at a man walking the last steps of his life, and the melancholy that isolation truly brings.
8.) Three Colors: Blue
The first of director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors Trilogy, when this writer began thinking of this list, the first film to jump into my mind was this all-time great drama. Following the story of a woman who must deal with the sudden death of her husband and child, she finds solace in her ability to now cut ties with the world she knew, turning to a life of isolation. However, when that becomes harder than one would imagine, the meat of the film really begins, and it becomes as spiritual and provocative a meditation on human interaction and one’s need for it as you will ever see. Haunting and unforgettable, Kieslowski’s film, and this trilogy in general, stands as some of the greatest foreign language films ever made.
Maybe a bit high on this list here, what with The Criterion Collection having just added this and two other films from Roberto Rossellini to its ranks with a recently released box set, this is nonetheless a masterpiece of the cinematic form. Starring Ingrid Bergman, the film follows the tale of a woman who marries a POW to avoid an internment camp, only to move to the island of Stromboli where the natives despise her, a volcano lays dormant and a marriage begins to disintegrate. A perfect preview to a film like Journey To Italy Rossellini would make only a handful of years later, the film is far removed from Rossellini’s neo-realist war pictures, but it is an absolutely heart wrenching melodrama that hints at (particularly with scenes involving local fishermen) Rossellini’s roots, but turns up the drama. Inherently about a woman’s attempt to break free of her isolation and solitude on this island, it’s a great piece of film.
6.) The Passenger
One would think, given his filmography, that “Michelangelo Antonioni” is just Italian for “really haunting and really oppressive isolation and solitude.” Joking aside, Antonioni’s canon is chock full of meditations on loneliness, none more haunting or powerful than say, one of his many masterpieces, The Passenger. A story about a man who switches identities with a recently passed friend he made while in the Sahara working on a documentary, the film is as beautiful and well crafted as it is absolutely oppressive and unforgettable. Featuring a breathtaking turn from Jack Nicholson, the film depicts the Sahara as being inescapable as our lead character’s own mind, and just about as empty as well. Shots in this film will be seared into your mind for years after viewing the picture, and if you don’t get lost in the aesthetic, you’ll most certainly lose yourself into as lyrical and spiritual a meditation on loneliness as cinema has ever fostered.
5.) Where The Wild Things Are
Childhood can really be a bastard. While this Spike Jonze-directed adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s brilliant children’s book of the same name is often either disliked or just forgotten, and while it may seem like an odd choice to put on here, what is a more universal feeling during childhood than loneliness and isolation? An inherent and at-the-time harrowing aspect of youth, there is so much anger here, so much heartbreak and ultimately so much energy, that to see it mostly derive from our lead’s loneliness makes it an automatic inclusion on this list. Be it the loneliness felt in a broken home or the loneliness felt by a sibling who would rather do anything than spend time with you, there is something so beautifully raw and visceral here, something so devastating and real, that it truly stands as one of the best films of the 2000s. Think this generation’s 400 Blows, but more melancholy. Or Zero de Conduite, but even more anarchic and dark.
4.) Lost In Translation
Loneliness with other people, what’s worse? A theme director Sofia Coppola digs into throughout many of her films (the changing of clothes in Marie Antoinette is just as thought-provoking a sequence as it is beautifully shot), isolation and loneliness is arguably the key theme at the core of her masterpiece, Lost In Translation. With characters played by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson (who hasn’t shown this type of acting power since, although she is great in the otherwise mixed-to-mediocre Don Jon) in their new home of Tokyo alone (or in Johansson’s case, with a husband who has no interest in spending time with her), the film puts its focus on solitude front and center. With Tokyo playing as something even more isolating than just a different country, the film’s greatest aspect is its ability to turn loneliness into not only something beautiful, but in many ways expanding and ultimately rewarding. It’s as universal a film as Coppola has made to date, and it still stands as easily her greatest cinematic achievement. A film even her father would be proud to have made.
One of director Roman Polanski’s least seen pictures, this breathtaking look at a woman slowly losing her mind while all by her lonesome is a truly brilliant piece of cinema. Doing, similar to a film like Solaris, what films about isolation get so perfectly, Polanski’s film (and the same can be said for a film like The Tenant, also from Polanski) gets at just how insanity-inducing being alone can truly be. When her sister leaves for vacation, the lack of a roommate sends Catherine Deneuve’s Carol into a tailspin, finding her the creator of various entities that live only to torment her. Claustrophopic, terrifying and utterly bewildering, Repulsion is a definitive thriller that is as much a classic isolationist drama as it is a definitive psychological horror film.
2.) Taxi Driver
And now with the top two, and the least shocking choices one could ever possibly make. Clocking in at number two is Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece, Taxi Driver. Arguably cinema’s definitive portrayal of a loner, Scorsese’s picture has become as much of a cultural lightning rod and controversy sparker as it has a truly beloved piece of celluloid, one that proves Scorsese as as great a filmmaker as there has ever been. A brooding meditation on solitude, Bickle is a self proclaimed loner. He is “God’s lonely man” afterall, and with loneliness following him his “whole life,” this film is a stark look at what isolation can do to a human being when taken to its extreme conclusion. But it’s not entirely society’s doing. Very much a film about a man inflicting or imposing this loneliness on himself (let’s just say he doesn’t have the greatest view of everyone else living in this world), Bickle firmly believes this world he lives in is Hell, and he’s here to change that. It’s truly a film unlike anything else.
Inarguably Gravity’s biggest influence, Tarkovsky’s film is the definitive science fiction-based meditation on the impact of isolation and loneliness on the human psyche. Besides being the greatest science fiction film ever made (sorry Mr. Kubrick), this film attempts to dig deep into the mind of its central character, asking what things we would all encounter if we were to be completely and utterly alone, in a place we have no understanding of. With a great sense of atmosphere and a densely brooding score, Tarkovsky crafts a masterpiece of a science fiction drama that is as interested in the isolation of its lead character as it is digging deep into his own consciousness, while in turn making a powerful and universal statement on the ideas of love and loss. Simply put, this is one of the greatest films ever made.