Help me achieve catharsis through reading
January 2, 2009 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Fiction or film recommendations with characters that undergo serious catharsis

I've been having some rough times lately, emotionally. My life has suddenly become very strange and foreign after years of stability. I'm doubting all kinds of things and solid relationships are being turned upside down. I want to read my pain away. Are there any novels or films where the protagonist suddenly questions everything in their life and finds that they're not living the life they were meant to live? I'm looking for books highly character-driven, relationship-oriented,with difficult life-changing decisions to be made (or not made). modern, if possible. A lot of books these days seem to be highly clever, which is ok, but I'm more interested in empathy and emotional resonance. Surrealism and magical realism ok, but I'm looking to identify in realistic ways. Something that will hit me harder than a dose of MDMA
posted by brandnew to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite


It's a Wonderful Life

My Dinner with Andre (though it's all done through conversation about prior events)
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:19 AM on January 2, 2009

John Cassavette's A Woman Under the Influence sort of fits this bill, though it's a messy ride and the catharsis isn't a clean one (which it never is).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:46 AM on January 2, 2009

perhaps little miss sunshine? i'm not sure if it's exactly what you're looking for, but there's some upheaval and turbulence. broken flowers, logan's run, etc.

sorry to hear you're having a tough time. mefimail me if you need someone to talk to.
posted by big open mouth at 8:49 AM on January 2, 2009

also a good read about soulsearching is into the wild-- also a great movie.
posted by big open mouth at 8:50 AM on January 2, 2009

John Updike's Rabbit, Run.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:55 AM on January 2, 2009

Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver.
posted by 8dot3 at 9:33 AM on January 2, 2009

You should check out some of these.
posted by fire&wings at 9:46 AM on January 2, 2009

I recommend the films Amelie and Little Miss Sunshine.
posted by fantine at 10:09 AM on January 2, 2009

The Truman Show might be one to look into.
posted by firei at 10:27 AM on January 2, 2009

Dancer in the Dark.
posted by hermitosis at 10:37 AM on January 2, 2009

Choke by Chuck Palahnuik has a very graphic catharsis scene in it. So much so that it instantly sprang to mind 6 years after reading it.

The Stranger by Camus?
posted by Large Marge at 10:45 AM on January 2, 2009

"American Beauty"
posted by backwards guitar at 10:46 AM on January 2, 2009

The Fountain

Spanning over one thousand years, and three parallel stories, The Fountain is a story of love, death, spirituality, and the fragility of our existence in this world.

Magnolia for a more grounded story.
posted by slimepuppy at 11:53 AM on January 2, 2009

Running with Scissors, both the book and the movie. Whether everything in the "memoir" is true or not, it's a great story.
posted by entropyiswinning at 12:07 PM on January 2, 2009

Best answer: Seconding The Stranger. Siddhartha by Hesse might work. For a five-minute, Camus-style pick-me-up you can read his "The Myth of Sisyphus" here -- it's more than worth the time it will take to read.

For movies, you probably can't do better than Ikiru. I'm also thinking of The Sea Inside and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly in the "triumph of the human spirit" department.

Oh, and are you into poetry? I read 'As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame.' whenever I'm feeling lost: "Crying What I do is me: for that I came."
posted by thebergfather at 12:07 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nick Hornby has built his career writing exactly what you are talking about. My favorite is About a Boy, but lots of people prefer High Fidelity. The only exception is How to be Good, which is comes really close to having catharsis but misses it at the end...which is really depressing. Don't read that one.
posted by emyd at 12:10 PM on January 2, 2009

Best answer: The Low Life
Kicking and Screaming
Mother Night
World According to Garp
posted by Pollomacho at 12:13 PM on January 2, 2009

The Razor's Edge was a book and then a movie w/ Bill Murray. I wasn't a huge fan of the film, but it was well-reviewed if I remember right. Maybe the book would be worth checking out.
posted by pilibeen at 12:17 PM on January 2, 2009

Best answer: 1982 Janine, by Alasdair Gray. Lots postmodern experimentalism in this book, but it all beautifully serves a very real and powerful story of catharsis that I think fits your description perfectly. Gray's amazing Lanark would also do the job if you've got the time for 560 very involving pages.
posted by newmoistness at 12:32 PM on January 2, 2009

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Plenty of magical realism, but it affected me on a very deep, real level.
posted by kimdog at 1:49 PM on January 2, 2009

Wow -- Camus, Kurasawa, and Hopkins in one comment? thebergfather rules!

Some other possibilities:

Much of Dubliners, especially "The Dead" (the last three paragraphs still have the power to make me cry, even though I've read them a hundred times; if you can find the movie, it's worth seeing, too)

Wild Strawberries

Atonement (book first, but I thought the movie adaptation was actually pretty good, as well)

After Life

For sheer, sob-provoking sentiment: City Lights
posted by scody at 1:57 PM on January 2, 2009

Big Fish? Amazing moment of clarity at the end. Stunningly beautiful moment of reconciliation between father and alienated son, followed by the son finally "getting it" about his father.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:00 PM on January 2, 2009

Cherry Blossoms (Kirschblüten - Hanami). I saw it a few days ago and I found it incredibly moving... in fact, I am still thinking about it today.

The Lives of Others

Anything by Kieślowski, for example:
Three Colors Trilogy (Blue, White, Red)
The Decalogue

Wim Wender's classics:
Paris, Texas
Wings of Desire
posted by jp021272 at 2:09 PM on January 2, 2009

Was just coming back to add The Lives of Others and the Kieslowski recs, as well! All great, great films. (If you're anything like me, the first installment of The Decalogue will have you sobbing on the floor for hours.)
posted by scody at 2:22 PM on January 2, 2009

The Sparrow. Emilio, the protagonist, gets his life turned upside down on him. It sounds like it would be hard to relate to, but it's a fascinating and very well-written book that I, personally, found to be life-changing.
posted by bristolcat at 4:34 PM on January 2, 2009

Yes, yes to Wild Strawberries and The Lives of Others. I also like The Pumpkin Eater quite a bit.

Also, and I know they are not recent, but most of Jane Austen's books probably fit ... Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice ....
posted by gudrun at 7:07 PM on January 2, 2009

Seconding Maugham's Razor's edge, which is old-fashioned but has several characters, not just the central one, undergoing massive changes from within and without. Please skip both movie versions.

Wharton's Age of innocence might fit your bill. Not modern in the strict sense, but certainly highly character-driven and relationship-oriented. Maybe John Fowles's French Lieutenant's woman. These have incidences of revelation re life choices in context of social structure. Graham Greene tended to put his characters through internal rigors - I'm thinking particularly of The heart of the matter.

For movies, this is a little out there in its specificity, but Holy smoke depicts two cocksure people demolishing each other's central belief systems. And yeah, as mentioned above, Kieślowski's films. Maybe Rohmer's Le rayon vert aka The green ray.
posted by goofyfoot at 11:57 PM on January 2, 2009

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