Just the Once

There’s a certain kind of movie that is a sort of opposite of those strangely addictive and fun movies I talked about on my last post, and those are movies that you loved on first viewing, but can never watch again. More than just tearjerkers, these movies are brilliant, but so intense and difficult that multiple viewings are simply not an option. My top five:

1. Requiem for a Dream

I’ve heard this movie discussed in this context before, and I adamantly agree with its inclusion in the category. I vividly recall watching this with some friends freshman year of college, and sitting through all of the credits and several moments of a black screen before any of us started to talk again. Even then it was only to mumble a goodbye and leave the room in a daze. Darren Aronofsky is a great filmmaker, but this movie is so draining I don’t think I can ever commit to it again.

2. Sling Blade

I’m a huge fan of Billy Bob Thornton, who wrote, directed and starred in this film (and won a best adapted screenplay Oscar for it), but it commands so much from the viewer, from the opening monologue to the awful choice the main character makes at the end, that experiencing it a second time hardly seems to be logical. Even appreciating the perfect performances by John Ritter, Dwight Yoakam, and Lucas Black (why is he not a major star by now?), the level of pain and reality in this film is so high I would always recommend it to someone but never sit down to watch it with them.

3. Dogville

I can’t not include Lars von Trier’s bizarre and close to indescribable movie on this list, and yet I am not sure it belongs here, because I have never been able to decide whether I like it or not. I saw it nearly two and a half years ago, and it got into my head so deep that I still think about it often. The movie is highly stylized, set on a soundstage with few sets and props. The viewer is left with not much to focus on except the slow-developing evil the characters find themselves capable of inflicting on the stranger in their midst. There is a moment in this film when the main character (Nicole Kidman) realizes that all the plans she has made for salvation have crumpled pathetically around her; that moment was so hard on me I can’t ever sit through it again, no matter how I may eventually decide I feel about the film as a whole.

4. Boys Don’t Cry

Five words: based on a true story. I want to cry just thinking about this movie. Writer and director Kimberly Peirce’s follow-up project, the Iraq war drama Stop Loss, is finally coming out this March, and I will most certainly pay to see it. But I might have to take a shot or two beforehand, just to prepare.

5. Dirty Pretty Things

There’s pretty much no way a movie starring Audrey Tautou and Chiwetel Ejiofor, directed by Stephen Frears, isn’t going to be brilliant. The subject of immigrants in Europe is certainly a deep one that should be explored by cinema. But the horrid level of desperation these truly likable characters reach is painful to observe. The movie is essentially a thriller, yet it sucks emotion from the viewer on another level than most movies in that genre can claim.

Anybody else feel the same way about these or other movies?


4 Responses to “Just the Once”

  1. 1 Chelsea August 15, 2007 at 10:06 am

    I second Dirty Pretty Things and Boys Don’t Cry. I haven’t seen either one since the first time I watched them. I would also nominate The Pianist, Schindler’s List and Hotel Rwanda.

  2. 2 Jared August 22, 2007 at 4:55 pm


    Watched it with my girlfriend and was rewarded with a solid week of abstinence.

  3. 3 Aaron September 2, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    For me its Rob Zombie’s “The Devil’s Rejects,” I thought it was a fantastic movie that really showed Rob Zombie’s talent as a director. He really showed his love for the genre, and I ended up seeing a film that though violent, was so perfect, allowed me to beleive in the genre again and I lifted my ban on horror films (I stopped watching after the so violent and desturbing I felt dirty and discusting “Hills Have Eyes” remake. Though not as gory as I expected, the violence still left a bad taste in my mouth, so as great as I thought it was (it really was what 70’s horror should have looked like if it took itself more seriously) I do not think I will ever watch that film again.

  4. 4 Carly September 30, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    oh, Kids was SO disturbing!! And whatever happened to Brenden Sexton III, he was all over the place for a couple of years there. But I’ve got Dirty Pretty Things in my queue again – it was hard to watch, but I want to see it again. I mean, that cast…

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Other projects:

Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

Grand Dames: collecting sundry achievements of admirable women

The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

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