21 Mainstream Movies About Taboo Relationships

Nothing could be worse than having to feel the pain of forbidden love. Love is boundless, and it is only human to feel emotions. We disregard situations, time, society, and morality in the name of love, but it’s the sheer honesty and madness of it that makes love the most beautiful and delicate of human emotions. Empathy is the core of humanity, and we humans understand and feel each other’s pain. Films about forbidden love have always been a feast for cinephiles, which makes it a fascinating topic for an article. Needless to say, this is a highly subjective list, and the choice of movies might be controversial.

21. All Things Fair (1995)

Set during World War II, the film shows the sexual affair between 15-year-old Stig (Johan Widerberg) and his teacher, the married Viola (Marika Lagercrantz). Having just hit puberty, Stig’s libido is going through the roo,f and Viola has popped up on his radar. He hits on her, and while she seems disinterested, she slowly gives in, sparking off a steamy affair. What’s surprising is that Viola’s husband Kjell (Tomas von Brömssen) knows about the affair but treats Stig like a son. But when Stig starts losing interest in Viola, she decides to take back control of things. After all, she is the teacher, and Stig is her student. There is more to ‘All Things Fair’ than meets the eye, and director Bo Widerberg does a great job of taking us inside the minds of the two characters while exploring a relationship that is deemed taboo. You can watch ‘All Things Fair’ here.

20. Time of Wickedness (1985)

Directed by Yasuo Furuhata, ‘Time of Wickedness’ deals with a taboo relationship that is as taboo as it can get. It explores the affair between a son and his mother, one that thankfully doesn’t end in either of the two killing himself/herself. For the son, guilt is primary, a feeling that makes him run away but is in conflict with his desire for her. On the other hand, his mother, who has been denied a divorce by her husband even after finding out about the affair, comes following her son and is bent on being with him.

19. Tehran Taboo (2017)

This Ali Soozandeh-directed Persian-language animated romantic flick revolves around four characters (3 women and a man) in an Iranian society that is underscored by hypocritical aspects of sex, patriarchy, and religion, among others. How the lives of these four people intersect is showcased in a brilliant manner while addressing the aforementioned themes. A must-watch for all cinephiles, you can stream the film right here.

18. From Beginning to End (2009)

This Brazilian film has been directed by Aluizio Abranches and explores incest and homosexuality through the eyes of two guys who are step-brothers who have the same mother but different fathers. As expected, intolerance and prejudice are everywhere, and the question, as always, is whether love will survive because, more often than not, it doesn’t. Whether the love of the two guys endures till the end is what we see in the film.

17. Notes on a Scandal (2006)

Starring Dame Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Andrew Simpson, and Bill Nighy and directed by Richard Eyre, this psychological drama is based on Zoë Heller’s 2003 novel of the same name. It revolves around veteran teacher Barbara Covett, who diverts her attention to new art teacher Sheba Hart, a wife and a mother of two, and gets a much-needed escape from her loneliness. The two ladies get along pretty well, but that’s only until Barbara comes to know of Sheba’s affair with a fifteen-year-old student named Steven. She decides to use this piece of information to her advantage. But why? What does she want? Is there any secret she is hiding? To know the answers to these questions, you can stream the film here.

16. Fish Tank (2009)

Directed by Andrea Arnold, ‘Fish Tank’ won the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival as well as the Best British Film BAFTA. It tells the story of solitary teenager Mia, who finds herself attracted to her skanky mom’s new boyfriend, Connor. After all, he is the only one who cares for what she likes, something that’s not the case with either her mom or her over-smart younger sister. Mia eventually falls in love with Connor. But the question is, will her love quest be successful, or will this spiral into more isolation? To know, you can check out the film here.

15. The Reader (2008)

Most people dismiss ‘The Reader’ as a mediocre, Oscar-bait drama that’s nothing more than a skin show. But I, for one, love the film. It’s deeply flawed and may come off as a bit of a drag at times, but it’s just too beautiful and humane to dismiss. The film depicts the complex sexual relationship between a teenage kid and a woman in her mid-30s. Kate Winslet is stunning in her role as a woman struggling to deal with her inner demons and deeply torn by her shameful past. Watch it for its delicate rendering of humanity. You may watch the film here.

14. La Luna (1979)

Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial drama ‘La Luna’ aka ‘Luna’ explores the disturbing relationship between a mother and her son. Joe, a teenager, has a troubled relationship with his parents, and after his mother’s husband commits suicide, he moves along with her to Rome. However, the boy’s emotional troubles begin to take a toll on him, and he begins to use drugs. To free him from the web of addiction, his mother grows increasingly closer to him, which develops into a sexual relationship. The film as a whole doesn’t hold up well, but the incestuous part is done in a very effective manner.

13. Harold and Maude (1971)

How, in our world, could the love story of a 20-year-old man and an 80-year-old woman not be a case of forbidden love? Hal Ashby’s black comedy romantic drama centers around a young man obsessed with death who frequently attends funerals, stages fake suicides, and grows increasingly detached from his mother. While romance might not seem to be the film’s thematic focus, the complex relationship between Harold and Maude is essential to understanding the sheer profoundness of the themes it deals with. They are two different worlds whose starkly contrasting perspectives on life form the core of the film. It might seem a bit bizarre and twisted for a specific audience, but it has aged incredibly well and feels thoroughly refreshing and original. You can stream the film here.

12. The Graduate (1967)

It isn’t easy to relate to a coming-of-drama that’s more than 50 years old. But there are some fantastic moments in ‘The Graduate’ that still hold up well and manage to move me tremendously. It was a trendsetting phenomenon that changed the way coming-of-dramas were made. The feeling of angst and sexual tension Benjamin feels is palpable. He is seduced by the wife of his father’s business partner but ends up falling in love with her daughter. You can stream the movie here.

11. Lolita (1962)

Arguably, one of Stanley Kubrick’s more underrated works, ‘Lolita’ tells the story of a middle-aged man deeply infatuated with a gorgeous teenage girl. Adapted from Vladimir Nokobov’s novel, which was of the same title, ‘Lolita’ generated controversy due to its bold subject and was panned by critics. Kubrick infuses a dark, perverse sense of humor that works brilliantly with its chaotic, often flippant narrative. The Censor Board back in the day had severe limitations, so Kubrick had to compromise on certain aspects of the film, which were highly bold and provocative for its time. This affects the film on a thematic level. Nevertheless, it’s still an immensely fascinating film made by a filmmaker who would change cinema in the years to come. You can stream it here.

10. Her (2013)

Do we love a person because of their physicality? No, not really, as Spike Jonze made us believe that you could fall in love with an operating system, too. Set in a futuristic world, ‘Her’ tells the story of Theodore Twombly – a lonely, divorced man who purchases an artificially intelligent operating system and develops an intimate relationship with it. There’s a very profound sense of irony here as ‘Her,’ despite being set in an unknown time in the future, is very much a film about today. We are often cruel to ourselves and struggle with our own identity in an unsparing world. Love here is way too abstract for any physical embodiment. It’s incredibly touching and so profoundly humane. You can check out the movie here.

9. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is a harrowing look at repressed sexuality and gender identity. The film is based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena, an American trans man who was brutally raped and killed in Nebraska. Brandon, played by Hillary Swank, adopts a male identity and moves to Nebraska, where he falls in love with Lana. They remain lovers despite Lana discovering Brandon’s true identity. Their romance is painful and uncertain as violence consumes their blissful but brief and fleeting period. If your idea of powerful cinema happens to have the power to devastate and disturb you emotionally, then this is your kind of film. You can watch it here.

8. The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)

‘The Ballad of Jack and Rose’ is a beautifully flawed film about the painful delicacies of human relationships. The great Daniel Day-Lewis plays Jack, a farmer with a heart condition who lives with his daughter, who is isolated from the world outside her home. When Jack brings his girlfriend, Kathleen, and her teenage sons home, his daughter begins to develop jealousy towards his partner. When he discovers that she had sex with Kathleen’s son, he is infuriated but is deeply torn when he realizes that she is in love with him. It’s a beautifully made drama that occasionally tends to drift and meander but manages to strike a chord in you because of the sheer warmth and humanity. You may watch the film here.

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7. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

This wouldn’t seem surprising at all. Ang Lee’s heart-wrenching cowboy romance is quite simply one of the most astonishing tales of forbidden love. Jack and Ennis spend their time together in the Wyoming mountains during the summer and develop a very passionate sexual and emotional relationship with each other. They are portrayed as outcasts, and they live in a cruel, judgemental world where feelings and desires are repressed. The film beautifully captures the angst, the verve, the passion, and the pain of love. Feel free to check it out here.

6. Baran (2001)

Iranian director Majid Majidi is an extraordinary filmmaker. There’s an astonishing sense of warmth and simplicity in his cinema that makes it so endearing and charming. ‘Baran’ is one of his best works. It tells the story of a 17-year-old boy who works on a construction site. He falls in love with an Afghan refugee girl who is disguised as a boy so that she can work at the site. Only the boy knows the secret as he covertly watches her from behind her room to get a glimpse of her natural beauty. They do not get to talk to each other but strongly contain their feelings for each other. Majid Majidi masterfully captures every single detail here that contributes to the beauty of the story. You can check out the film here.

5. The Age of Innocence (1993)

Few love stories have been as emotionally devastating and brutally painful as Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Age of Innocence.’ It tells the story of Newland Archer – a young and ambitious lawyer engaged to a woman from a highly respected family. However, things change when Archer falls in love with his fiancee’s cousin, Ellen. Their repressed emotions intensify the passion and intimacy of their relationship, making their eventual fate a profoundly tragic one. It’s brutal, inexplicably painful, and too powerful to even talk about. You can watch ‘The Age of Innocence’ here.

4. Ma Mere (2004)

Arguably the most controversial film on the list, ‘Ma Mere’ is easily the most disturbing and unwatchable film about incest ever made. The film features the great Isabelle Huppert, playing an incestuous mother obsessed with sex who asks her son to have sex with her. They make violent love as Helene asks her son to physically hurt her by cutting her abdomen, and as his masturbation reaches its climax, she slits her own throat. The film is blatantly provocative and, for the most part, plain unwatchable, but you fail to take your eyes off of an explosive Isabelle Huppert, who is in top form here.

3. Delta (2008)

This Hungarian gem is a criminally underrated drama that explores a poignant incestuous relationship between an estranged brother and sister. The film possesses a dark tone that reflects the unusual relationship between its characters, but it doesn’t tend to exploit the provocative nature of the story. There’s a sense of lurking danger felt throughout the movie, but the way it portrays its characters and their relationship makes us empathize with them rather than trying to put us off with blatant emotional manipulation.

2. Carol (2015)

Todd Haynes’ ‘Carol’ is quite simply one of the most beautiful films about what it feels like to fall in love. These are two people dying to fall in each other’s arms, yearning for a sense of emotional liberation from the clutches of a cold society. Therese is a shy young girl who isn’t happy with her boyfriend. Carol is a wealthy, middle-aged mother on the verge of a divorce. These are two people in different phases of life, from various strata of society, but the world around them is cold and indifferent to their feelings and desires, and that is when they meet. With a fantastic cast and a nuanced script, Haynes crafts a timeless story of love so full of warmth and humanity. You can stream the film here.

1. A Short Film About Love (1988)

When people say European cinema, the names most often mentioned are Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Luc-Godard, Luis Bunuel, Michael Haneke, and so on. But Krzysztof Kieslowski’s name is usually sadly overlooked, and in my humble opinion, he’s right up there with the aforementioned greats as one of the finest auteurs European cinema has ever produced. He had this ability to get so deeply personal and intimate that it leaves you soaked in a plethora of emotions.

‘A Short Film About Love’ was the cinematic extension of the sixth episode of his highly acclaimed Television drama ‘Dekalog’ and was one of his underappreciated works. Teenage angst and sexual infatuation have never been portrayed so beautifully in cinema as Kieslowski paints the madness, the enigma, the ecstasy, the melancholy of human emotion so delicate yet so profound and magical to be put into words. You can stream ‘A Short Film About Love’ here.

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