‘Dark’ films: Sadness & Indie flicks

I don’t know who thought it was a good idea – but somehow last night my girlfriend, five friends and I ended up sitting in the living room, sipping hot chocolate and beer, while watching one of the most depressing films ever made.

Dancer in the Dark (2000) is the story of a Czech immigrant named Selma (played by singer Bjork – whose voice I still can’t decide whether to love or hate) who has pulled all short straws in life.

Set in Washington state in 1964, Selma is a factory worker who is slowly going blind, and who saves every penny she can in hopes of affording an operation for her son so that he will avoid the same dark fate.

Her escape from this dreary reality is an active imagination that transforms tragedy into scenes befitting musicals; but her daydreams are repeatedly yanked back down to earth as she faces a series of soul crushing events.

I can’t say that I liked the movie – I think my mind tends to reject films that are oppressively sad – but I suppose I can appreciate some of the cinematic aspects. The ‘musical’ scenes were imaginitive, surprising and fresh, and flushed with vivid colors. I respect the filmmaker for being brave enough to portray such a heartbreaking tale in full force, but all in all I think I’m somewhat exhausted with depressing indie films.

Not long ago I also saw Dark (2003) – which enticed (and misled) me because the main character is a bicycle messenger (it turned out to be a very small theme).

But again, after watching, I felt a mix of confusion and depression – despite what seemed to be the film’s (spoiler warning) superficially positive ending. I understand that the point of independent film is to break the god-awful mold of hollywood film – and surely Dark did that. But the absolute sadness of Dark’s life (the main character’s name is Dark Freeman) seemed to dillute any message that might have been conveyed through the story.

And beyond that, I generally despise the use of inner monologue in film.

Among these films with “dark” themes, one uniquely dark movie stands out to me as having conveyed something other than the utter sadness of human life.

A Scanner Darkly (2006) succeeded in my eyes because it brought out a subtle idea of hope and human resilience. Though I initially felt thoroughly bummed out after watching, further reflection led me to see the more positive aspects.

Contrary to my former comments, I enjoyed the inner monologue in Darkly because it felt poetic – it added something to the film rather than supplementing for an aspect that fails to be portrayed visually, as Dark does.

True, the twisted plot and mind-warping visual twitch even the most stone-faced viewer out – but Darkly subtley and beautifully painted the human struggle to cope with the (can I resist?) dark aspects of life as a battle than can be won – perhaps breaking this new “indie film” mold of sadness.

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