Media depictions of empathy?
December 31, 2011 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Film and literature that depict empathy (or lack of) between adults?

Just saw The High Cost of Living which depicts both empathy and lack of empathy towards a character. I was struck by how the dunderheaded non-empathizer was caught up in his own view & concerns just like I do. I'm hoping that watching empathizers will help me get better at it. The gender roles might be important for me: the target was female & the ones I was watching for cues were men. I'm a cis-gendered straight man. I'm willing to try anything though.

Previously about this between children or adults v. children.

Rabbit Hole is another film recommended in reviews of The High Cost of Living.
posted by morganw to Human Relations (38 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Closer, 2004.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:28 PM on December 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

Wes Anderson's entire oeuvre. Good and bad examples.

Lost in Translation.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

It's subtler, but Kurosawa's Red Beard certainly counts.

For bad examples, The Squid and the Whale.
posted by valkyryn at 2:46 PM on December 31, 2011

Reading the premise of the film you mention reminded me of one of the storylines in Short Cuts.
posted by cazoo at 2:50 PM on December 31, 2011

In Ordinary People, Donald Sutherland's marriage with Mary Tyler Moore is shattered because of her lack of empathy toward their son.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 3:00 PM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Tokyo Story by Yasujiro Ozu for both.
posted by vincele at 3:03 PM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

What I Loved by Siri Husvedt
posted by staboo at 3:03 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Scrooged or a Christmas carol?
posted by chasles at 3:09 PM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mildred Pierce. (Both versions)

A Clockwork Orange.

Never thought I'd see those two titles side by side...
posted by hermitosis at 3:11 PM on December 31, 2011

Dangerous Liaisons
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:11 PM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Kramer vs. Kramer is about a divorce, but really seems to be all about learning empathy.
posted by cairdeas at 3:14 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Sound and the Fury
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 3:14 PM on December 31, 2011

Chaplin's City Lights.
posted by scody at 3:27 PM on December 31, 2011

Dead Man Walking
posted by argonauta at 3:31 PM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: > Scrooged or a Christmas carol?

The thing that struck me about the un-empathatic character in The High Cost is that it wasn't cartoonish, obvious numbskullery. It was easy to see how he got that way and sympathize with his plight of having his own real problems that keep him from realizing he has blinders on.
posted by morganw at 3:33 PM on December 31, 2011

House of Sand and Fog
posted by XMLicious at 3:33 PM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do androids Dream Of Eletric Sheep has a running theme on empathy, from the religion based on shared suffering to the replicants complete lack of it.
posted by The Whelk at 3:48 PM on December 31, 2011

Ooo, definitely check out Lars Von Trier's films, many of which focus a great deal on this:

Breaking the Waves

Dancer in the Dark


posted by hermitosis at 3:57 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Being John Malkovich
posted by infinitewindow at 4:30 PM on December 31, 2011


In the Company of Men and possibly others by Neil LaBute
posted by triggerfinger at 4:41 PM on December 31, 2011

Best answer: The movie Disgrace with John Malcovich grapples with this issue, perhaps in the way that you mention. It's based on a book, and the theme goes to sometimes unnerving levels. Same things you mention: blinders, lack of necessary empathy, attempting to grapple with this on various levels in the face of suffering. You struggle with how to feel about the main character at times as he struggles with his own failings.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:48 PM on December 31, 2011

Rachel gettng Married
posted by biffa at 5:28 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The first film that comes to mind which contrasts characters with empathy with characters without is Viridiana, which might actually be the kind of film you don't want even though it fits your requirements. Buñuel had very definite ideas about religion and (apparently) charity.

Dead Man Walking, recommended above, has the same basic premise (a religious figure shows an outstanding amount of empathy towards people who society usually ignores or despises) and would probably work better for your needs.

The main characters of Schindler's List are an extreme example of the contrast between empathy and lack thereof--though maybe not the best source of examples of everyday behaviors you could pick up to show empathy.

I thought Leaving Las Vegas was curiously affecting in its depiction of the main relationship, with her acceptance in sharp contrast with others' judgment or cold indifference.

You know who's really great for empathy, though? John Sayles. Maybe skip Silver City, though--satires aren't a great source for examples of empathy.
posted by johnofjack at 5:35 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Secret Life of Words, and Wild Strawberries maybe?
posted by gudrun at 5:59 PM on December 31, 2011

DONM (which I found from another recent thread here) has a list of films that feature narcissistic mothers. I would imagine there's some overlap in what you're looking for there.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:05 PM on December 31, 2011

Definitely von Trier, this is a, the, major theme of all his films. Dogville is one of the most striking examples. He is mostly concerned with the lack of empathy.

On the positive side, Three colors: Red by Kieslowski is about the development of a spirit of fraternity, empathy between its characters.

Less seriously, The human centipede depicts a serious lack of empathy.
posted by bonehead at 6:06 PM on December 31, 2011

Basically anything written by Ursula LeGuin; fiction in any genre, non-fiction - and she did a kickass translation of the Tao Te Ching. She is one of the best authors writing about the human condition I have ever read.
posted by likeso at 6:24 PM on December 31, 2011

Best answer: Funny People has some good examples of this. The way the various people deal with the lead character's deadly illness includes every degree of empathy and lack thereof.
posted by BeBoth at 7:16 PM on December 31, 2011

Far From Heaven
posted by timsneezed at 8:16 PM on December 31, 2011

Od magic by Patrcia Mckillip
posted by zia at 12:45 AM on January 1, 2012

Leo McCarey's "Make Way For Tomorrow." The USA before Social Security. Bad examples abound. This is too sad a film for some folks to stand, but it's very well done.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:19 AM on January 1, 2012

The Sweet Hereafter.
posted by dhartung at 8:45 AM on January 1, 2012

Stranger Than Paradise.
posted by ovvl at 11:23 AM on January 1, 2012

Best answer: Julie Delpy's movie "Two Days in Paris" features A LOT of bickering and minor-level cruelty (thus, to my mind, absence of empathy) within a couple.

Mar Adentro/The Sea Inside tells of a completely paralyzed man who can't get anyone to help him fulfill his deepest desire, though they claim to care about him.

I think any movie or media that gets you to really empathize with a character might be even more helpful at upping empathy in daily life than a movie that shows a good depiction of an empathic relationship.
posted by lilbizou at 6:16 PM on January 1, 2012

Check out the work of Thomas McCarthy (e.g. Win Win, The Visitor, The Station Agent); empathy is his ouvre.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:39 PM on January 1, 2012

Best answer: Just about anything by Mike Leigh. Almost all of his films that I've seen exhibit significant degrees of empathy (both within the context of the story, between characters, and in the way the films jointly and severally point up the need for empathy as an intrinsic part of a healthy society). Funny, warm, moving and very human stories - Secrets and Lies, Happy-Go-Lucky and Another Year are the ones that I remember best (I haven't seen Vera Drake but I understand it covers a very difficult subject with - again - great empathy for the characters involved).
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 5:27 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pretty much anything by Cassavetes, particularly Faces.
posted by heatvision at 6:12 AM on January 2, 2012

Best answer: In As Good as it Gets, you can watch a neurotic Jack Nicholson attempt to learn empathy via friendship with two others to whom empathy comes naturally.

Two of Noah Baumbach's films, Margot at the Wedding and The Squid and the Whale, feature lead characters who essentially starve children of empathy, so the moments of empathy for those children stand out immensely.
posted by salvia at 2:17 PM on January 2, 2012

Best answer: Anything by Alexander Payne, especially Sideways, The Descendants, and maybe About Schmidt (haven't seen this yet, but I'm guessing). Characters are often second guessing other characters, seeing them in positive and negative lights.

I'll second Thomas McCarthy's work, especially Win Win and The Station Agent. I think empathy shines in his films much like Payne's, but a little more optimistically.
posted by myntu at 10:47 PM on January 2, 2012

« Older Any potential tax write-offs for long-distance...   |   Recommendation for a 35mm Scanning Workstation in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.