Rogue 10: Ten Dramas That End With Hard-Earned Hope

Thursday, 09 June 2011 13:23 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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Rogue 10: Ten Dramas That End With Hard-Earned Hope

As moviegoers, we're generally inclined towards simply having a good time and spending two hours working up to a happy ending.  Some films, however, take a more difficult and arguably more rewarding approach, dragging their audiences into despair and back in order to dole out a sliver of hope to nourish our battered psyches. 

In the acutely-observed new drama Beautiful Boy, for example, Maria Bello and Michael Sheen play a shattered couple in the aftermath of their son's school shooting rampage.  While it is appropriately depressing, it also provides the faith that, eventually, its characters can and will recover.  Today, we're happy to present ten recent films that, like Beautiful Boy, dare to devastate, which makes their ultimate hopefulness that much more meangingful.

10. My Life As A Dog (1985)

This Swedish drama from director Lasse Hallestrom stars Anton Glanzelius as a smart, morbid little boy who must live with his uncle while his mother slowly dies from Tuberculosis.  Though the film contains numerous tragedies and adolescent humiliations, it is a fundamentally sweet coming of age story about a boy learning to contextualize misery and find solace in unexpected places.

9. The Dark Knight (2008)

The only explosion-centric summer blockbuster on the list might not seem to qualify, but if you look past the spectacle: when the film ends, things are a whole lot worse for Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale).  The love of his life died, the best hope for Gotham City had half his face burned off then starting killing people, while Batman's grievously injured and on the run from the police, all of which he is ultimately responsible for.  Still, the film concludes a wraithlike Batman ascending towards light and the audience convinced that his resilience will allow both the hero and his city to endure.

8. United 93 (2006)

When this uncompromising, unadorned depiction of the events surrounding one of four commercial flights highjacked on September 11, 2001 was released in 2006, many felt it was simply "too soon."  Paul Greengrass's treatment of the hijackers and the passengers who forcibly sacrifice themselves to save the plane's eventual target is not quite what was expected, though.  It is in no way manipulative, allowing the actions of each grounded individual to provide a very real catharsis, and finding some real hope without slighting the very real tragedy.

7. Empire of the Sun (1987)

This criminally underrated Steven Spielberg film is a fictionalized version of J.G. Ballard's real-life story.  A young Christian Bale stars as the son of British aritsocrats in Shanghai who is separated from his parents and placed in a work camp when the Japanese invade during WWII.  The wide-eyed J.G. is witness to myriad horrors and endures sundry brutalities, yet he remains capable of ecstatic joy, with his pluck and resourcefulness continuing regardless.

6. The Diving Bell and the Butterlfy (2007)

'Locked-in syndrome', as depicted by director Julian Schnabel, is one of the most nightmarish medical conditions imaginable.  Matheau Amalric plays real-life Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominque Bauby, who suffers a catastrophic stroke and is utterly paralyzed, with the exception of his left eye.  The various women in his life create and cultivate an entire system of communication based on the blinking of that eye, and his ability to continue expressing himself is inspiring.  Perhaps more than that, though, his memories of the seemingly trivial events and joys of his earlier life leave you appreciative of even the simplest pleasures.

5. Sophie's Choice (1982)

Alan J. Pakula adapted the novel of the same name, and the resulting film is built around three remarkable performances by Peter MacNicol, Kevin Kline, and most crucially, Meryl Streep in the title role.  Flashbacks to her experience several years before are deeply upsetting, and the main story in 1947 New York demonstrates the inescapable effects of such trauma.  When the film concludes, we, like MacNicol's character, cannot help but be grateful for Streep and Kline's exuberant, self-destructive embrace of their humanity in all its resilient imperfection.

4. Children of Men (2006)

Despair pervades every corner of the near-future that Alfonso Cuaron creates, where humans have inexplicably lost the ability to reproduce and the species devours itself in hysteria and attempts at self-preservation.  Like the next film on the list, this one is an exercise in directorial style, but it's also an examination of how we function in the absence of hope, and how powerful even a glimmer of it can be.

3. Boogie Nights (1997)

Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's sprawling ensemble epic plays out like the rise and fall of a rock star, with Mark Wahlberg's Dirk Diggler going from a naive busboy to a drug-addicted, hateful husk against the backdrop of changing pornography industry in the late seventies and early eighties.  Anderson's virtuosity and energy make the film endlessly watchable, even when things get truly desperate.  By the end, as the Beach Boys play over the soundtrack, it's evident that our characters will survive with the support of their strange surrogate family.

2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

An obvious but no-less appropriate choice, Frank Darabont's adaptation of a novella by Stephen King has hope as its dominant theme.  The indispensability of hope is explicitly laid out in dialogue delivered by Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, an accountant wrongly imprisoned for the murder of his cuckolding wife.  Faced with the violence of guards and fellow inmates, as well as the oppression of the crooked prison bureaucracy, Andy clings to hope as not only as his defining attribute, but the one that will allow him to survive.  In doing so, he inspires the best in his small community of lifers.

1. Dancer in the Dark (2000)

The most devastating and difficult entry in this latest Rogue 10 is, surprisingly, a musical starring Bjork.  This film is written and directed by Lars von Trier, who heaps misery after misery upon his unfailingly innocent and loyal protagonist, all the way up to an ending that is almost too much to take.  Despite the cruelties inflicted upon her and an increasingly awful situation, the heroine maintains her decency and pursues a fundamentally decent goal.  It's just enough to cut through the spiral of victimization that the film presents.

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