I have heard that the secret to a compelling story is to put the protagonist through the most difficult situations imaginable during the course of the plot. The ending of course should wind up with the protagonist triumphantly overcoming the obstacles. Movies where the protagonist fails to end in triumph for the protagonist often leave the viewer feeling depressed. Here is a list of five successful Hollywood films that make it to the top of my list of the most depressing movies ever made.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Nicolas Cage won an Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic screenwriter, who travels to Las Vegas in order to drink himself to death. Cage’s brilliant performance, along with a stellar performance by co-star Elizabeth Shue as Sera, a Las Vegas prostitute who falls in love with Cage, make for compelling viewing. The movie is very well done, but incredibly sad. After watching the film, I said to myself this is one movie I will not want to watch again.
Monster’s Ball (2001)
Hollywood beauty, Halle Berry won the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Leticia, the wife of an executed man. The movie gets off to a depressing start with a heart wrenching scene depicting the condemned husband (played by Sean “Puffy” Combs) sobbing as he is lead to the execution room. The somber tone lasts throughout the movie, overshadowing the primary plot, which features Billy Bob Thorton as the racist prison guard who becomes romantically involved with Halle Berry’s character.
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
House of Sand and Fog is another captivating film, with a stellar cast lead by the phenomenal Ben Kingsley. Jennifer Connelly plays an abandoned wife, whose home is accidentally sold to a family of Iranian immigrants. The story enthralls as it unfolds and culminated in a most tragic ending. The 2003 film was based on the novel by Andres Dubus III. House of Sand and Fog was nominated for three Oscars.
You may think that it is not possible to feel sympathy for a protagonist who is also a cocaine dealer, but that is not the case (at least not for me) with this film. Johnny Depp does a good job humanizing the character of George Jung, one of America’s pioneer cocaine dealers. The film ends with George Jung serving a life sentence, a sad ending for a man who could have chosen another path.
8mm is another depressing movie starring Nicolas Cage. The subject matter alone is incredibly depressing, as Cage portrays a private investigator hired to investigate whether a “snuff” film is authentic or not. The film is as dark as its subject matter.
While all five films listed, are depressing movies they are also compelling to watch. Just don’t watch when you are looking for something to lift your spirits.