Positive Season: Depressing Movies and Why We Love Them

“I too have felt great sadness. You are talking to someone who has sat through “Beaches” twelve times.”

That might be a quote from ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ – one of the greatest comedies ever made – but we’re here to talk about depressing movies, and why we love them.

And I love it all: from cancer to concentration camps, nuns to nuclear meltdowns, my idea of a delightful night in is putting on an epic film that is sure to have everyone in tears by the end.

For example, my favourite hangover movie is Notes On A Scandal. Yep, you remember it: the one where Judi Dench is trying to lez off with Cate Blanchett, who’s distracted because she’s having an affair with a 15 year old boy, the big dirty paedo.

Perfect! Because conversely, I find that watching Friends while hungover or just generally sad is a surreal experience. Why is everyone so happy? Where’s all that laughter coming from? Why is everyone white? It makes me feel scared, vulnerable and alone. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not about to advocate Downfall or Sophie’s Choice as a delightful way to spend a hungover afternoon or a romantic night in with your significant other. But just like many people listen to sad music when they’re feeling down, I try to do the opposite and try to lift myself up with some pumping electro pop. Cyndi Lauper has got me through some dark times, whereas Joni Mitchell I reserve for the good times. Confused? Probably; but at least I’m not sad.

And if you think ‘Comedy’ is something like Grown Ups 2 with Adam bloody Sandler and all his shitty mates, then no thanks, I’ll stick to Sophie’s Choice.

Depressing movies provide a vital catharsis: sure, there’s no greater medicine than laughter, but there’s a reason they call it ‘a good cry’. It gets it all out of your system, like a cleanse, so you can feel lighter and brighter. Seeing these characters struggle with the big questions – death, deceit, Nazis – it soon brings your own problems into sharp relief. You might be a week away from payday and eating dry pasta for dinner, but at least your family hasn’t been gassed. You might be struggling to write that epic poem you just know you have hidden inside you somewhere – but at least you’re not about to part ways with your lover, never to see them again.

Art is about providing contrasts so we can understand our own existence better. A movie that puts you through the wringer emotionally is always going to be of more value than a quick, easy laugh, and if it’s a choice between watching Will Ferrell get up to shenanigans or Bette Midler singing to a dying Barbara Hershey on a beach, I know which one I’d opt for.

Words: Thomas Dearnley-Davison

Illustration: Rosco Brittin