Internet lists of “most shocking” and “most disturbing” films usually list horror movies almost exclusively. Some of the best shocks in films can be found in other genres. Films that are difficult to watch can produce some of the best filmmaking by any standard. Here are some complex and challenging films that have truly disturbed and left me emotionally wrought.
You’ve seen the pivotal moment of “The Downfall” on YouTube, parodying Adolf Hitler in a rage over everything from Brett Farve’s football skills, to Justin Bieber, and Michael Jackson. I searched out the original film, because it’s hard not to notice the amazing emotional performance of the actor who plays Adolf Hitler.
“The Downfall”, details the Nazi regime’s final days, told through the eyes of a young woman who lands a job as a secretary to the highest ranking personnel of Hitler’s Reich. She is present for the most personal family moments of the Nazi leaders as their lives collapse and their war is lost.
The worst monsters in human history are shown raising their children, joking with friends, expressing kindness to each other; it is a look into the lives of the loved ones of these war criminals. You’ll struggle emotionally with considering these infamous historical villains as people who cared about, and were cared for, by the people around them.
“Irreversible” unfolds backwards, beginning with a graphically brutal murder inside an S&M sex club. We follow the main character in reverse to the start of his evening, learning scene by scene what led to this gruesome revenge killing. With no cuts between scenes, only a whirling turn of the camera to facilitate the change, viewers feel lost, confused, and ill at ease. You seem to live the experience, discovering the main character’s ghastly vengeance for his assaulted wife is ill fated and tragic. The film ultimately rewinds the story all the way back to the afternoon of the same day, much happier times. However, finishing on a sunny note doesn’t undo the tragedy you know is about to happen.
Salo – The 120 Days of Sodom
Director Pier Paolo Pasolini places The Marquis de Sade’s 18th century story of indulgence, torture, and degradation in the backdrop of WWII Fascist Italy. Released in 1975, the film has been described as perverse, pornographic, nauseating, and even blasphemous. An outspoken political extremist, Pasolini was murdered before the film’s release, but “Salo” remains one of the most controversial films of all time.
The Fascist Elite who enslave and use for pleasure a group of male and female youth, seek to hurt and debauch not only their prisoners but themselves as well. The film is filled with nudity and depictions of homosexuality, cross dressing, sadomasochism, torture, and murder. No taboo is left unexamined, and the elite patrons degrade and abuse themselves almost as much as their prisoners. They strive for total anarchy, savoring the disgusting, and tearing down that which might be considered moral or sensible.