I wouldn’t be surprised if we, as human beings, are drawn towards morbid subjects of suicide and self-destruction. Cinema often comes off as catharsis during these times, gratifying our morbid fetishes. Suicide is a frighteningly complex subject matter that has piqued the interest of countless scholars, theorists and philosophers across the world. The emotional and psychological extremes that push a human being to the darkest corners have often been the subject of choice for many filmmakers.
Suicidal tendencies could be born out of severe depression, fear or sometimes, the inability to confront the mundane. The incomprehensible convolutions of life often drive a human being onto the flailing edges of insanity and mortality. And it’s not surprising that during my research for this article I’ve come across a great deal of overlooked movies that take on the themes of suicide, depression and isolation. But just so to limit the number of movies, here is the list of top films ever that deal with suicides. You can watch some of these best suicide movies on Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
10. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
The great Paul Schrader’s intriguing examination of Yukio Mishima, the controversial writer-militarist of the post war era who infamously committed a ritual suicide is one of the most underrated movies ever made. Schrader peels off the man behind Mishima and dissects the events of his life in a highly stylized drama using a complex narrative that unravels beautifully with pristine clarity and coherence. The film keeps a certain distance from its central character and abstains from a judgmental approach while being unflinchingly honest about its subject and themes that raises questions on materialism, extremism, cult and suicide. The great Roger Ebert added the film to his list of “Great Movies”, calling the film “a triumph of concise writing and construction.”
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9. Ordinary People (1980)
Don’t get me wrong on this but Robert Redford‘s classic debut is much more than just about suicide. The film is an emotionally draining experience that deals with human loss, grief and recovery. ‘Ordinary People’ depicts the disintegration of an upper-middle class family following the tragic death of one of their sons in a boating accident. Grief, inexplicable sorrow, fear, lack of communication and emotional seclusion are lurking around the characters, driving them on to the verges of extremities as we see them drifting apart and leaping into the pits of psychological meltdown.
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8. Heathers (1988)
A startlingly funny take on teen suicide, ‘Heathers’ created ripples among the teen rebels of its generation and is hailed as one of the greatest teenage comedies ever made. The film explores the angst of a teenage girl, Veronica, who in order to get out of the snobby clique that is destroying her good-girl reputation teams up with a sociopath in order to kill the “cool” kids. The film hovers around the themes of teen suicide and brutally mocks it with a delectably dark taste of humor. ‘Heathers’ broke the stereotypes associated with teen movies and gave voice to a generation of rebels, triggering an immense cult following over the years.
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7. Harold and Maude (1971)
This darkly funny existentialist drama explores a strange relationship between a 20-year-old, obsessed with death and a 79-year-old woman, an eternal lover of life. The film touches on the philosophical themes of life and death while fusing elements of dark humor that brilliantly manage to get across you on a very profound level. Harold is eerily obsessed with suicides and death and orchestrates fake suicides and attends funerals. In one of the funerals, he meets Maude, a 79-year-old woman and the two begin to develop a bond on each other’s mutual hobby of attending funerals. The film developed a massive cult following and is now regarded by critics as one of the finest American movies ever made.
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6. I Stand Alone (1998)
A controversial pick but an undeniably seductive one to ignore. One of contemporary cinema’s most controversial provocateurs, Gaspar Noe, burst out on to the scene with this fiercely powerful, disturbing work of art that strips down the seething angst bedeviling the frightening psychological edges of the warped human psyche. ‘I Stand Alone’ follows a Butcher who, after being released from an imprisonment for assault, finds himself stranded in the middle of nowhere; rejected, isolated and abandoned by the society. The entire film is a lead up to the culmination of his manic-depressive state of mind and despair. The film floats through the themes of nihilism, despair, suicide and sexual violence. All of which would later become hallmark of Noe’s cinema.
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5. The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Adapted from Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel of the same name, Sofia Coppola’s feature film debut tells the story of five teenage sisters living in Detroit in the 70s after the youngest of them tries to commit suicide. As a result, their parents confine them to the interiors of their house that engenders angst, isolation and depressive suicidal tendencies among the girls. Coppola infuses the film with her subtle humor and tenderly melancholic touch that provides a certain warmth to the film and gracefully touches on the themes of suicide, depression and loneliness among adolescents.
4. The Hours (2002)
A painfully underrated film starring the likes of Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore with a staggering central performance from Nicole Kidman, ‘The Hours’ is an intense, harrowing look at the painful vulnerabilities of the human condition. Hated and loved in almost equal measure, the film is noted for its startling lead performances and sweeping scores. ‘The Hours’ tells the story of a depressive writer whose novel affects the lives of several other women from different time periods. The film might be loud in its approach towards dealing the complex themes of suicide and depression but the well etched characters and the spellbinding performances from its lead ensure that it’s not something that you can look away from.
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3. The Fire Within (1963)
The great Louis Malle delves deep into the realities of suicidal thoughts and meaning of life and existence through a depressive alcoholic who undergoes rehabilitation and decides to visit his friends one last time in order to search for the ever evading truths of life before ending it. ‘The Fire Within’ is a deeply humane and personal take on existential themes and the value of existence and creation. Alain Leroy meets his friends only to be further pushed towards the futility of his existence as his failure to understand the nuances and intricacies of life culminates in him succumbing to the unfathomable complexities of life around him.
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2. Taste of Choice (1997)
Perhaps the most profound philosophical exploration of suicide and death in cinema, Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami‘s poetic tale of a man’s search for someone willing to bury him after his death is a richly thought- provoking, emotionally powerful cinematic experience that lingers in your minds long after the credits have rolled out in true Kiarostami fashion. ‘Taste of Cherry’ is one of Kiarostami’s lesser accessible films and was very divisive among critics. The great Roger Ebert tore the film apart in his review and deemed it “excruciatingly boring” while many considered it to be a masterpiece. A a filmmaker who loves to raise questions than to provide answers, Kiarostami intellectually deepens the philosophy of death and lets us introspect on the meaning of life, purpose of our existence and our relationship with nature.
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1. The Seventh Continent (1989)
In what could arguably be regarded as the most shocking debut in cinema history, Michael Haneke devastates and bludgeons his viewers with eerie silences, smothering the violent implosions that plague the human psyche. ‘The Seventh Continent’ chronicles the emotional and psychological decay of an upper middle class Austrian family, plagued by the mundanities and superficiality of life in the modern society. Their reasons aren’t explicitly delineated. But Haneke, as always, forces us to observe the sheer ordinariness of their actions that consume their existence. ‘The Seventh Continent’ is a shockingly beautiful piece of art that gets buried under your skin with the poisonous power of cinema.
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