unhappy endings you actually value?
June 7, 2016 4:42 AM   Subscribe

I teach the paradox of tragedy (e.g. why do people go to see films/plays they know to be sad if people normally dislike feeling sad?) but I find the grounding examples a bit suspicious. Please tell me a film that i) you definitely treasure and would be willing to watch again but which ii) has a definite sad/tragic ending?

Some conditions:
1. It ideally shouldn't be cases where the hero manages to save the day, but dies in the process. I don't consider those sufficiently sad endings.

2. It ideally shouldn't be better classed horror like 'look how cool this monster is!'

3. It shouldn't be better classed as sublime, as in some disaster films like the perfect storm.

4. It doesn't have to be as sad as possible. It could be restrained sadness. But if you're willing to say the sadder it is, the better, that's a bonus.

Personally I get turned off by a lot of tragedies because the stupidity shown in them (e.g. Dancer in the Dark) but I can recognize that we might value narratives that show how cruel circumstances/luck can bring anyone down.
posted by leibniz to Media & Arts (144 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:49 AM on June 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

Well this often comes up on mefi, and most people seem to have an "I wish I hadn't seen that" reaction to it, but Threads is pretty horrific throughout and has a terribly sad, empty ending, and there are no heroes, other than maybe the female protagonist, but I won't go into much detail for fear of spoiling it. But that is something that I value about the film - that it goes a fair way into the future after nuclear desolation with no happy ending.
posted by Diag at 4:52 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Grave of the Fireflies
posted by oh pollo! at 4:54 AM on June 7, 2016 [12 favorites]

all of O. Henry's work....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 5:03 AM on June 7, 2016

House of Sand and Fog
The Remains of the Day
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:05 AM on June 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

Sophie's Choice
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:08 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Bicycle Thieves. Oh god. "Papa! Papa!"
posted by scratch at 5:09 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Inside Llewyn Davis
posted by winterportage at 5:13 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Dancer in the Dark
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:13 AM on June 7, 2016

Both more sad than tragic: In the Mood for Love, and From Here to Eternity.
posted by trotzdem_kunst at 5:19 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Umberto D. does not have a tragic climax but sort of a tragic anticlimax.
posted by BibiRose at 5:21 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers so far everyone! Could I just add, it would be helpful if you could confirm that you'd be definitely willing to watch your films again (or if you have done, what the hell you were thinking) and give me some sense of why you are valuing it.
posted by leibniz at 5:25 AM on June 7, 2016

I have watched Moulin Rouge a lot of times and the sad ending gets me every time. It makes me feel all the feels along the way and it can be nice to be a bit starry eyed and sad for a while afterwards. The music and all the pretty people and lush constumes helps too.
posted by shelleycat at 5:28 AM on June 7, 2016 [10 favorites]

American History X is upsetting.

Have watched it again, despite its heavy content (and vile racism). The movie is well shot and acted and ultimately the main character has grown significantly.
posted by eisforcool at 5:29 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Brokeback mountain

I just watched it again and cried and cried.
I like it because it shows how difficult life was for gays until very recently (and still a long way to go in many places/culture). Not just that someone was horribly murdered because of it, but that people had to spend their lives longing for love.

I love a sad movie because I have something worth crying about in my life right now, but if I cry about me it feels indulgent. When I have a good cry over a movie it feels way better!

It's probably why I like sad movies. I don't let let myself feel bad for myself. I know I am going through things generations of people went though and have it better than them. A sad movie lets me feel sad without guilt and without really sinking into sadness over a couple things that I can not change.
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:40 AM on June 7, 2016 [19 favorites]

I consider the movie version of the play Wit to be a tragedy, but I have seen it half a dozen times or so. There are many layers of tragedy in this film and I always find myself unravelling a new piece of it every time I watch it. I suppose that's why I've seen it so many times.
posted by xyzzy at 5:41 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

I would watch Umberto D. again. That's because I know some of the worst things that seem possible do not happen-- if they did, I don't think the movie would be highly valued anyway. What people admire, and I agree, is the performance by Carlo Battisti as the main character who is a sort of Everyman figure. It's very old, 1950s, but the theme of decent people being ground down by economics is very relevant today.

Now I think of it, though, college students might find it kind of dire unless they had reason to be interested in the performance as such.
posted by BibiRose at 5:43 AM on June 7, 2016

Life of Pi
This is England
posted by Brittanie at 5:45 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

City of Angels has a sad moment at the end but I usually watch it if it's on tv. The movie isn't actually that good but the idea is neat. I've actually turned it off before she dies to avoid the scene.

The Prestige shows the lengths two magicians go to to master their craft. I watch it regularly because it's really fascinating!
posted by eisforcool at 5:45 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

No Man's Land I think about this movie often and I think why it sticks with me and why I would watch it again is because it makes me deeply uncomfortable and I do think that one purpose of art is to rattle your complacency.

A perfect tragedy should . . . imitate actions which excite pity and fear, this being the distinctive mark of tragic imitation. It follows plainly, in the first place, that the change of fortune presented must not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity: for this moves neither pity nor fear; it merely shocks us. Nor, again, that of a bad man passing from adversity to prosperity: for nothing can be more alien to the spirit of tragedy; it possesses no single tragic quality; it neither satisfies the moral sense nor calls forth pity or fear. Nor, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear; for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves. Such an event, therefore, will be neither pitiful nor terrible. There remains, then, the character between these two extremes -- that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous -- a personage like Oedipus, Thyestes, or other illustrious men of such families. . . .

Aristotle captures why we come back to tragedies well I think. They remind us of our own fragile position in the world; that a wrong decision, wrong turn could drastically alter the course of our lives. Those feelings of pity and fear lead to gratitude and a reminder to cherish what we have. And hopefully also build empathy for those less fortunate because we are reminded that our own fortunes could change on a dime.
posted by brookeb at 5:48 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Love Story
posted by Thorzdad at 5:52 AM on June 7, 2016

Why do I enjoy rewatching something I know to have a sad ending? This is hard to put into words because the things I love rewatching involve a lot of feelings you never really describe in detaiI. It also changes, depending on how you feel at a certain point in time. I might have rewatched something five years ago I would never rewatch now. I rewatch certain things because I find the way the narrative clicks into place really satisfying, and because I find the relationships meaningful. I guess it allows me to feel/express some emotion about the nature of human relationships and adds to my understanding? It resonates in someway with what I am feeling at a particular time, and helps me feel my way through something or tells me something i need to know. So within this category, films i have rewatched are - Atonement, Moliere, crouching tiger, hidden dragon, the Senna documentary (don't know if that counts) and (this isn't strictly a film) the animation of grandpa by raymond briggs. I'm sure there are a few more I can't think of right now. I can probably do better with books....
posted by Nilehorse at 5:55 AM on June 7, 2016

Bang The Drum Slowly and Brian's Song. Spoiler: they die. I'd watch them again because they're good movies.
posted by fixedgear at 6:01 AM on June 7, 2016

I could watch over and over the sad ending to A Serious Man.
posted by Bardolph at 6:07 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

The mention above got me thinking about Brokeback Mountain. I think I would watch it again, and here's why: it shows that feelings are things of substance and gives me reasons to take my own feelings seriously, to give them weight when making decisions, which is something too easy to neglect. It also reassures me that others care about personal happiness, and that they will give weight to these things also. It helps me not feel so overwhelmed by the seeming tendency of the world to focus only on things that are easily seen and measured.
posted by amtho at 6:07 AM on June 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

posted by monkey closet at 6:08 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

it would be helpful if you could confirm that you'd be definitely willing to watch your films again (or if you have done, what the hell you were thinking) and give me some sense of why you are valuing it.

I'm one of the few people that I know that enjoys re-watching Requiem for a Dream. I can't tell you exactly why I enjoy it, but it's artfully made, and sometimes art shows us ugly things in life rather than pretty things. I don't walk away from viewing Guernica or The Third of May 1808 feeling happy, but I think they're worth seeing.

(e.g. why do people go to see films/plays they know to be sad if people normally dislike feeling sad?)

Sometimes we want to feel a spectrum of emotions. In some cases, I think part of it is that we often enjoy seeing other people suffer, particularly if they "deserve" it in the tragic sense. Seeing the characters in Requiem or Macbeth brought down by their hubris is kind of satisfying, whereas the blameless children in Grave of Fireflies is not. Most people that want to see things like Grave of Fireflies want the reminder of the fragility of life and awfulness of wars.
posted by Candleman at 6:09 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think Brokeback Mountain is the best one named yet!

For me, with tragedy in the classical Greek sense, commonality is part of the appeal. These are not isolating difficulties, they are something a community is viewing together. As such, any empathy that's achieved feels bigger. And often, even if the ending is not happy, there is some sense of justice and affirmation of community values and order restored. I don't find this unproblematic-- the whole idea that a community can watch a performance and agree on its values is kind of absurd. But I think the structure of tragedies is often that sense is made out of chaos.
posted by BibiRose at 6:11 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Steel Magnolias and Terms of Endearment. Really engrossing family/friend dynamics and they are very sad but cathartic in a way that's hard to articulate. I've seen both many times.
posted by gatorae at 6:11 AM on June 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
posted by modesty.blaise at 6:13 AM on June 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Someone above already mentioned The Remains of the Day, but as I just re-watched this recently (I've seen it five times, maybe, including when it was in theaters? And I read the book, which also has a sad ending), I'll address it in a little more detail.

I find The Remains of the Day to be a restrained and exquisite tragedy, with excellent performances and a tone of subdued and increasing melancholy. The course of Stevens' life is tragic not in a clumsy sense ('everything bad happens to him, rocks fall, werewolves'), nor "cruel circumstances/luck can bring anyone down", but in a more unified Aristotelian sense: he himself has powerful virtues--self-control and sense of duty--that grow so strong that they basically drown him. His self-control turns into a straitjacket that keeps him from being able to reach out to Miss Kenton; his sense of duty turns into a shackle that ties him to a Nazi sympathizer.

No one saves the day, there's no 'the pain was all worth it in the end'. Time goes by, terrible decisions are made, irretrievable opportunities are lost. I love Stevens, so I don't watch the movie to enjoy seeing him suffer. I watch it because it's beautiful, and because of the painfully perfect balance between how valuable his virtues are + how they overmaster him, and also for a good cry (literal or figurative, sitting there clutching my heart going "STEVENS JUST TELL HER YOU LOVE HER", even though I know he won't/can't).
posted by theatro at 6:14 AM on June 7, 2016 [19 favorites]

umbrellas of chebourg
posted by PinkMoose at 6:16 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Harold and Maude. It's my favorite movie, I've seen it countless times. While the ending is tragic, it's also very life-affirming. I first saw this movie when I was 12 or 13 and it turned me from a Harold into a Maude, so it has a very special place in my heart. But normally I don't do sad interpersonal fiction, and I really don't step on the same rake twice. Watch Edward Scissorhands again? Nope, I can barely type the name of the movie without tearing up.

On preview, Steel Magnolias and Terms of Endearment are exactly the kinds of movies I'm talking about. I wouldn't have seen either if I'd known how sad they were, and I would resist rewatching them under any circumstance. I totally get why people find them cathartic, it's just that different stories do that for me.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:16 AM on June 7, 2016 [8 favorites]

Paths of Glory.
Ran. Ikiru.
The Seventh Seal.
posted by cgs06 at 6:17 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I do have a question about your question: when you say but I find the grounding examples a bit suspicious, what are these "grounding examples"?

I mean, there's so much scholarship on things like catharsis, and entire specific genres like the melodrama (especially the kind derisively nicknamed the "weepie" back in the day) where their whole purpose is to induce a good cry. And yet to me you sound dubious that taking pleasure in tragedy/sad endings exists? So it would be helpful to know more of what you're dubious about.
posted by theatro at 6:19 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Branagh's Henry V. I can and have watched that over and over. I suppose it's technically a history play not a tragedy, and the final courtship scene is a glimpse of a future, but there is so much death and pain, and shadows everywhere in that final scene too of all the people lost. It's brutal and beautiful.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:19 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

One False Move. One reason why this film feels quintessentially 'tragic' (by which I mean satisfyingly tragic, rather than gratuitously or pointlessly tragic) is that it's character-driven rather than plot-driven. Roger Ebert pinpoints this in his review:
One of the unique qualities of the screenplay, and his direction, is that this is a film where the principals are three black people and three white people, and yet the movie is not about black-white “relationships” in the dreary way of so many other recent movies .. Every character in this film, black and white, operates according to his or her own agenda. That's why we care so very much about what happens to them.
The ending of the film therefore has a tragic inevitability about it, which comes pretty close to Hegel's theory of modern tragedy: 'occasioned by external preconditions, yet essentially grounded in the character. The individuals in their passion obey their own character, not that it is substantially justified, but simply because they are what they are.'
posted by verstegan at 6:21 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Moulin Rouge (the Baz Luhrmann film, not the 1956 one). I've watched it more times than I want to admit to anyone.

And Brokeback Mountain.

And catharsisis definitely a thing (as is glittery can-can expressing deep, doomed love).
posted by kariebookish at 6:25 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

In the introduction to Antigone, Jean Anouilh writes something along the lines that... (I've misplaced my copy): Tragedy is better than drama because there is no hope, no suspense. The hero isn't coming back with the police, no Saint-Bernard is coming to save you.

And that's liberating, when from the start you know that everyone is doomed, doomed, doomed, like in Throne of Blood (/Macbeth) or Jesus of Montreal.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:26 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

A Clockwork Orange

Also, +1 for Grave of the Fireflies
posted by jbickers at 6:28 AM on June 7, 2016

"The Remains of the Day" also seems to convey the idea that emotions are more substantial than we often expect. They are real even when we don't see people acting on them.
posted by amtho at 6:29 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

La Jetée
posted by doublesix at 6:29 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Old Yeller
My Life as a Dog
Schindler's List

and so many more. I watch and will re-watch these types of movies because it's a controlled catharsis.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:30 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

As an example, Dangerous Liaisons.

As a concept, I find the question kind of odd, in that I can't imagine not rewatching films (or plays, or rereading books) that are good and have sad endings. A sad ending can heighten the emotions and poignancy of everything that comes before the ending, the same way that our mortality gives more meaning to our lives.
posted by lazuli at 6:33 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Grave of the Fireflies was mentioned upthread, but I'll chime in with my two cents: It's tragic, and one of the most emotionally-draining films I've ever seen. But I watch it again for two reasons: It's important to remember, even when it's really hard, and also, this film is beautiful. It's such a gorgeous piece of animation, and storytelling. It's a good film that deserves to be watched, even when it's a complete and utter tragedy.
posted by PearlRose at 6:38 AM on June 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

There is a terrible movie called "Miracle Mile" that ends with the end of the world (spoiler). It's one of my favorites.
posted by xingcat at 6:41 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

There are so many, but Dr. Zhivago comes to mind. I guess the story is made more poignant by the tragic ending. I've watched that movie a million times. I think the story wouldn't be nearly as good if everything worked out for those people. Nor if the ending were slightly less sad.

I think I enjoy and re-watch tragic films for the same reason that I re-watch happy ones. The story itself is a destination. I re-watch a movie to go to "that place" that that film takes me once again. I've re-watched Lost in Translation many times knowing I'll never know what he whispers to her in the end. But I also know that's not why I'm re-watching it. I just want to go through the whole thing again.
posted by marimeko at 6:41 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Third Man. It's not one of those glorious cathartic weepfests others have talked about. Rather, hero's best friend turns out to have murdered and maimed a lot of people, including children, through selling diluted penicillin on the black market; hero has to shoot him after he also kills a likable minor character; hero's love interest sweeps past him contemptuously at the end, leaving him standing alone like a fool in a cemetery in an alien city. Why? In addition to its purely aesthetic qualities, which are considerable, it's such a perfect working-out of the operation of a certain kind of character in a certain kind of environment. Yet it's not at all openly didactic or overdetermined.

Holly Martins...such a silly name.
posted by praemunire at 6:43 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

No Country for Old Men isn't demonstrably sad, but it's certainly not an uplifting film. It's quiet, unsettling, and depressing, and ends with the bad guy at least sort of winning in a way that makes the whole world seem hopeless.

I love it and I've watched it many times. I have a pretty awesome life and I like fiction that makes me feel uneasy.
posted by phunniemee at 6:49 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

I don't generally like movies where the main plot revolves around the disabled character dying to inspire others to live their lives to the fullest, but Rory O'Shea Was Here was very well done.
posted by Soliloquy at 6:59 AM on June 7, 2016

Storm Boy. Not only because of the film, but because I used to call that part of the world home & I'm now half a world away & when I miss home too much I watch it & the sad ending gives me a good excuse to cry because I miss home too.

Farewell My Concubine. Because it's beautiful, exquisitely beautiful, & sad and did I mention beautiful.

Also Brokeback Mountain. So sad, so beautifully sad & awesome. Why the hell everyone remembers Heath Ledger for the Joker & not this amazing movie is beyond me. All the major actors in this just manage to tear your heart out.
posted by wwax at 7:02 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Color Purple. The ending is redemptive, but the whole lead up is just pain and sadness. I've seen it dozens of times and will keep watching it. I'm not really sure why, but it reminds me that there are people far worse in the world than me.

I'm not sure if it fits your criteria though, because, like Steel Magnolias, it has an uplifting ending. But I always find myself wondering how sad everyone will be in the next scene which the movies don't show because they end.
posted by archimago at 7:10 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ugh now all I want to do is go home and watch The Remains of the Day!

The Mist is a horror/sci-fi movie, but it does have a pretty famous sad ending!

Not a sad or cathartic film by any means, but Time Bandits blew me away as a kid because it was the first movie I ever saw that had an unhappy ending. It was quite literally my introduction to the concept.
posted by cakelite at 7:20 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wuthering Heights. Cathy, Heathcliff and nearly everyone else is dead and I'm usually bawling, but could easily start it over and watch again.
posted by cecic at 7:26 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Remains of the Day, for sure, as others have said. Also Lonesome Dove, which I can watch over again forever, despite the entire last hour of inevitable weeping.
posted by janell at 7:31 AM on June 7, 2016

Romeo and Juliet. Any film or stage version. I've seen them all, multiple times, and will see them again. And every time I hope for Romeo and Juliet to live.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:33 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

The movie version of West Side Story (which is really an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet). I love the music and dancing, and I watch it over and over primarily for that - plus being totally in love with Riff. Sitting through the ending I think almost comes from a feeling of obligation to follow these characters through to the end. It would be wrong to just abandon them, if that makes any sense.

In general, I had a lot more tolerance for film tragedy before I experienced real-life tragedies.
posted by FencingGal at 7:52 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Crying Game

There are a number of ways in which this movie is deeply sad/tragic, such as the fact that Jody is accidentally killed by his would be rescuers. It ends with Fergus in prison for a murder committed by Dil and Dil visiting him. Fergus cannot love Dil, but Dil states "You are doing time for me. What greater love can there be?"

I very much want to see it again at some point. The first time I saw it, I did not get that Dil was trans. I am not sure I was familiar with the concept. I interpreted Dil as a cross dressing gay man.

There is a great deal that I like about the movie, like justice being served by a lie (in that Fergus makes himself look guilty and takes the fall, but he didn't actually kill anyone), the high cost of trying to do the right thing, the fact that even though Fergus was the least guilty of the terrorists, trying to escape evil is far more challenging than it appears. I very much like the emotional tension at the end of the movie, where they cannot be together and Fergus does not want her, yet Dil has understandably big feels towards him.

I will second Harold and Maude.

Out of Africa
Her farm burns down. She has no insurance. Her lover dies. Her philandering husband whom she is divorcing is the person who has to notify her of this. She leaves behind friends to return home to Europe. Yet, she has such grace under fire, such character. Bonus points: It is based on a true story.

Pay it forward
The boy's death seemed gratuitously sad until I realized it was a literary device for finding a way to illustrate the reach of the idea. Without his death, there would have been no reason for so many people to come forward and say that his idea had touched their lives.
posted by Michele in California at 7:55 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Outsiders
Pan's Labyrinth
posted by fourpotatoes at 8:13 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Brokeback Mountain -- the short story and the film -- are perfect because there are internal and external forces keeping the two together. I've seen the film twice and would watch it again.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:15 AM on June 7, 2016

Response by poster: I will now go through these films one by one and show why you are all irrational and our species is doomed....

Seriously though, it's helpful to see that I'm clearly less disposed towards this genre than others. For instance, I valued Brokeback Mountain when I saw it, but I really don't fancy going through the frustration of watching people suffer because of stupid fucking prejudice again.

I might watch Remains of the Day again, maybe.
posted by leibniz at 8:16 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a little puzzled by this question. Some of the reputedly greatest films ever made have "sad" endings and people watch them over and over again. Citizen Kane. Vertigo. Raging Bull. I've seen each of those films between 10-20 times and they fill me with varying degrees of sadness (especially Vertigo with that "I heard voices ..." ending) and I would happily watch any of them again tonight. Most films noir are like this, too, if they're any good. Out of the Past may be a good example. I think I'm drawn to rewatch any film that makes me feel something deeply and, more often than not, that deeply felt thing has to do with tragedy or at least an unhappy ending.

There is something else going on when a film is just viscerally unpleasant, and I think you're getting at that when you mention Dancer in the Dark, which I liked very much but have seen only once because it's sort of emotionally brutalizing. Other films in that category for me would be, let's see, Requiem for a Dream and Irreversible. Funny Games. But I think that's a special category of film where a filmmaker is taking a deliberately adversarial stance toward the audience and trying to put them through the wringer.

If a film is beautiful and sad, along the lines of Brokeback Mountain or In the Mood for Love I will watch it over and over again, reveling in the shared humanity of that emotional experience. I don't feel like it's at all different from watching a beloved comedy time and time again because that, too, makes me feel connected in a mysterious and almost inexplicable way to the people who made it. How did they know that scene would make me laugh/sob uncontrollably?
posted by Mothlight at 8:18 AM on June 7, 2016 [10 favorites]

Truly, Madly, Deeply, which I love and have watched multiple times. Spoilers of course, but the end is hopeful for the woman protagonist, but very sad for the main male protagonist, played by the late great Alan Rickman. The great trick and intelligence of the film is that the love story it is rooted in is between Rickman and Stevenson, but the ending you’re rooting for is for them to be finally apart.
posted by gudrun at 8:25 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Disclaimer: I wrote my masters thesis on WB Yeats theory of "tragic ecstasy" and I have LOTS of opinions about was qualifies as a "tragedy." Sad does not equal Tragedy. What distinguishes a tragedy from melodrama (according to WBY) is not sadness, but JOY! "No tragedy is legitimate unless it leads some great character to his final joy." And I am not here to bash melodrama. I enjoy a good cry as much as the next person. But there is a world of difference between the two genres. Also, I believe, along with WBY, that the reason we return to particular stories over and over is because: "The greatest art symbolises not those things that that we have observed so much as those things that we have experienced, and when the imaginary saint or lover or hero moves us most deeply, it is the moment when he awakens within us for an instant our own heroism, our own sanctity, our own desire."

I feel compelled to also mention Joseph Wood Krutch's wonderful essay "The Tragic Fallacy." He argues quite eloquently that a work of art is a tragedy only if it causes our "souls to expand." A tragedy in the classical sense does not produce a sense of "depression" but one of elation, when the spirit of a character "rises joyously superior to the outward calamities" and so causes us to celebrate "the greatness of the human spirit."

So the "paradox of tragedy" that you mention is that a character's story might end in death, but his/her life shows us how to transcend the harshness of the world and reveals to us the greatness of the human spirit.
posted by pjsky at 8:27 AM on June 7, 2016 [10 favorites]

I generally hate sad movies (and I found Pan's Labyrinth, lauded above, to be vomitously, hideously unpleasant to watch); but even I have a few that I love. The English Patient is one of my all time favorite movies (and not because of the one less-sad arc.)

I guess for me the difference is in what value is being explored in the movie. TEP is about romantic love, and juxtaposes two main stories, one about its terrible destructive power and one about its redemptive power. I haven't seen Brokeback Mountain but from what I understand, it showcases love as well. Pan's Labyrinth was about brutality and cruelty, and I don't need to spend two hours thinking about that.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:32 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Grave of the fireflies is not only sad but extremely depressing but that being said, watch it.
Blue Valentine, requiem for a dream, kite runner
posted by radsqd at 8:37 AM on June 7, 2016

The Apostle.
posted by shiny blue object at 8:38 AM on June 7, 2016

Response by poster: So pjsky, can you list some of these legitimate tragedies? I take Hamlet to be one, but any film examples? I'm also dubious about a definition of tragedy that seems to exclude some of the most canonical examples (e.g. King Lear, Oedipus).
posted by leibniz at 8:38 AM on June 7, 2016

Kids. The movie is pretty outsized as far as it's actual relationship to real life, but there's something about the tone of it-- to me it's "true" like an insightful myth. It's really sad and hard to watch, but I love it.
posted by Poppa Bear at 8:40 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh god, yes, nthing Brokeback Mountain. Because it's powerful. And maddening. And shows what happens to a person when forced to deny their true self. [Well, many persons in that movie.]

And it's SO perfectly acted and exquisitely edited and masterfully directed and expertly produced and just.. god, everything. Not to mention the incredibly, gorgeously haunting score and the breathtaking cinematography and every single damn scene that adds to the film in an important way.

I've seen this movie over a dozen times, and I weep at the end every time. And I love it even more after each viewing. Truly a cinematic masterpiece, in my book. I will cherish it forever.
posted by bologna on wry at 8:46 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

25th Hour.


The ending shows the main character on his way to prison but he chooses to go into hiding instead and we see him start a new life, reconnect with a lost love, etc...only it's revealed to be a fantasy and he really is going to prison for the next few years. It's not "Requiem for a Dream" sad but it's still quite a gut punch.
posted by Diskeater at 8:47 AM on June 7, 2016

I'm a neurotic, anxious person and it takes stories with INTENSITY to get through the din of noise my brain is making all the time to successfully get my attention. And then it is such a relief to think about that story instead of whatever my brain is force feeding me! Stories with intensity (sadness, mystery, whatever) distract me from the anxiety noise inherent in my wiring and allow me to pay attention to an external stimulus.

Plus stories that are sad/scary/intense match the way my brain perceives things. My life feels intense! Because my brain is dumb! It thinks that choosing one toothpaste from a wall of toothpaste options should be set to the music that is played during action sequences. THE DRAMA! THE DIFFICULTY! LIFE IS HARD!
posted by skrozidile at 8:51 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm surprised no one's yet added Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That's my textbook definition of tragic paradox: we know we're going to fail, and we personal relationships succeed even on a path to failure. I try to only re-watch it every few years to avoid spoiling the visceral response I have to that movie. And, yes, I will be re-watching until the end of days.

Also, what about Hedwig and the Angry Inch? There's a cathartic release at the end, but... the catharsis is brought to fruition by people achieving more natural states and roles, in effect ending the trajectory of those peoples' relationships. I listen to the soundtrack quite a lot--and those songs encapsulate the tragedy--but much of the story is expressed in visual play that I love to watch. It's as if the visual medium offers an apology for the tragedy--this is hard to bear, but look how beautiful even sadness is (actually, this goes well for ESotSM, too).

Brokeback is a good one, someone mentioned it above. The final scene, with the shirt... good lord, if ever there was a need for a visual representation of silent longing and regret, there you go. And Jack's mom at the end, knowing-but-restrained. Ugh! Cinematography for days. The more I think about this, the more I think I like tragic paradox that's accompanied by gorgeous visuals.

Paris, Texas, fits here.

Maybe Noë's Irreversible? A story's brutality is made more poignant by being told in reverse, opening at the worst and spiraling backward to provide circumstances that are at once tender and, because of that tenderness, amplify the initial horror to unimaginable levels of tragedy.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:54 AM on June 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

+1 for The Color Purple. The relationship Celie has with her sister Nettie really resonates with me. Their bond is so strong. I have seen this movie many times, and I always cry when the sisters are reunited. Perhaps it helps me to integrate feelings about my own experience? There are times though when it turns up on cable, I have to skip it because at the time, I just don't have the emotional bandwidth for it.

La Maison en Petits Cubes

I had to watch this animated short in film school. It's a very lovely meditation on life, love and mortality. It's a beautiful film, but I was not expected it to be so emotional. I had to excuse myself so I could go to the washroom and bawl my eyes out. I have watched it many times now. Again, when I feel I can spare the emotional bandwidth.

Watching sad or emotional films for me can be affirming, or just overwhelming. It just depends on the kind of day I'm having.
posted by dorkydancer at 8:54 AM on June 7, 2016


I spent years watching sad movies and crying my eyes out because it helped me release my own deep sadness.
posted by Michele in California at 8:54 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Well, crap, I am too slow. That was supposed to be agreement with skrozidile.
posted by Michele in California at 8:56 AM on June 7, 2016

WBY definitely gives Shakespeare his due and considers his works legitimate tragedies. Of course, not every production lives up to the standard of producing "tragic ecstasy" in the audience, but the source material means it's possible.

I can say with certainty that Paula Vogel's play "How I Learned to Drive" is a tragedy that fits the definition. The main character doesn't die, but she suffers through childhood sexual abuse and transcends it. Sadly it's never been made into a movie.

Movies that I would say come close because they are both sad and life affirming: The Color Purple, Adaptation, Steel Magnolias, Moulin Rouge.
posted by pjsky at 8:56 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is old school but Land Before Time. I've watched it a bunch since I was young. Little foots mom's death is such an honest depiction of unconditional love. It's the same reason why I will watch the beginning sequence of Up over and over. Relationships are beautiful. Feeling that deep, tortured pang gives perspective on how high love makes us feel.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:01 AM on June 7, 2016

Grave of the Fireflies and Farewell My Concubine were the first to jump to mind for me, but my problem is really more trying to narrow it down to just a few for you. I rewatch movies a lot, and many of those are sad endings.

I might rewatch them because of a wonderful performance I want to see again (say, Brokeback Mountain), or the beautiful way the film is shot that I want to re-experience (Raise the Red Lantern is just gorgeous), or maybe I'm in a bad mental health state and feeling kind of numb and it's helpful to watch something that provokes strong emotion, or maybe the movie presents some kind of experience or emotion that I'm trying to learn more about, or maybe I'm just bored and I bump into a good-but-sad movie on TV, and why not?

It might be useful to know here that in general my movie tastes tend to lead toward dramas, if not necessarily sad movies, anyway. I'm far less likely to watch or rewatch most comedies.

A lot of it for me is just how well the movie is made, or how interested I am in what it's trying to say. All of the movies I've named are ones I consider to be well-made and which are saying something of interest to me. There are some listed in this thread already that I have no interest in ever rewatching, but it's not because they're sad, it's because I just didn't find them interesting the first time around.
posted by Stacey at 9:02 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

You mentioned plays in part of your question. Tragic plays, musicals, and operas are hugely popular. I've listened to the cast recording of Rent dozens or hundreds of times. Movies, specifically? I'd rewatch Children of Men a bunch more than I already have (the ending is left open but in the context of the preceding events, it puts me in a tragedy frame of mind.)

>why do people go to see films/plays they know to be sad if people normally dislike feeling sad?

It's not that I dislike feeling sad, it's that I dislike having things happen TO ME that make me sad. Sad media I don't want to revisit usually reminds me too much of things I don't want to happen, or wish hadn't happened. That list has expanded as I've gotten older to the point where I watch very little tragedy, but it still has a place. Crying over Alexander Hamilton or Angel in Rent or Dumbledore gives me an excuse to cry, which is cathartic, and reminds me of truths I want to keep close to my heart (mostly about the preciousness of our time with people we love, and the importance of our choices.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:03 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's Such A Beautiful Day
I have watched it a number of times, and it gets sadder each time. But I will probably watch it a thousand more times.

My mother had Alzheimer's.
posted by oflinkey at 9:16 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have watched We Need to Talk about Kevin more than once and I think it qualifies as a tragedy, rather than a sad ("tearjerker") movie. Tilda Swinton is magnetic, which is one thing that makes the movie rewatchable, and she telegraphs so much very real--but unpleasant--emotion. The movie creates an excellent headspace for exploring those sorts emotions, and the pain of being human.

River's Edge is another tragedy I've watched repeatedly; again because it prompts reflection on real emotions and real questions about humanity, as Roger Ebert notes at the beginning of his review.

I don't find that tragedies leave me feeling "sad"--I would not describe the emotions created by, for example, watching a great performance of Mourning Becomes Electra as "sadness"--they are more like "distress" or "heartache" because I'm not feeling low or sorrow over something internal or emotionally connected to myself; I'm feeling an awareness of the failings of people collectively, which is far more existential than feeling "sad".
posted by crush-onastick at 9:20 AM on June 7, 2016

Dead Poets Society.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:25 AM on June 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

Your question immediately brought to mind The Ice Storm. I love this movie, have watched it a couple of times, and would watch it again. It's tragic primarily because a kid dies, but also because of the sad, sad disconnection isolation between all of its characters. I love it for a few reasons, many of which are esthetic: it's beautifully shot, written, acted. Also, I lived in the same area of Connecticut at the time the movie is set, and actually remember the real ice storm itself that is the central structure of the movie. I was the age of some of the kids. So there's a real nostalgia factor for me. I think one of the most significant aspects, though, of this movie and many or most of the other sad movies I love is the way they capture the real universality of so many human experiences and emotions. They articulate them in ways that feel real and authentic to me.
posted by primate moon at 9:27 AM on June 7, 2016

I have to disagree with William Butler Yeats on the mandatory-joy thing.

Also, speaking of film noir, I must mention Double Indemnity, which I would definitely say is a tragedy, and which I have watched at least 20 times in my life and could easily watch once a week forever.

Unlike The Remains of the Day which I discussed above, the central character's downfall in Double Indemnity isn't from his virtues overmastering him, but from more straightforward and slowly-revealed flaws. His lust and greed and competitiveness build up and he's sure he can get away with it. And I wouldn't be so sad at the end if it weren't for the grounding character of Keyes, who is good and righteous and true, and who loves Walter without knowing that Walter is betraying him.

I could watch the final shot, where Keyes lights the dying Walter's cigarette and Walter breathlessly gives him their ritual "I love you too" A MILLION TIMES, again clutching my heart the whole time. It has an echo of that Hamlet thing going on, with a pile of bodies, and the central character dying, and only his sorrowful best friend left behind.
posted by theatro at 9:30 AM on June 7, 2016

Generally, speaking I do not do well with unhappy endings or sad storylines. But François Ozon's 5x2 (2004) is one of my favourite films of all time. It is the banal tragedy of a marriage falling apart, the tit-for-tat petty unfairness that each spouse levies against the other, the quiet drama of relationships and adulting.

I have to psych myself up to rewatch it as I am going to go on a complex emotional roller-coaster, but I nevertheless thoroughly enjoy the rewatch. Part of this lies in Ozon's format: the story is told in reverse - we see the nastiness of the end up-close and personal right at the start of the film. Five vignettes of the relationship are presented in reverse chronological order, so at the end of the film we see the couple's beginning. I think that manipulation of chronology is central to the emotional complexity of the film. Personally, I end up thinking "it was worth it, all that meanness and destruction". So the spectator is unhappy at the end - as we know that this beginning certainly does not last forever - but it's a bittersweet, life-is-hard-and-complicated kind of sentiment, at least for me. The ride, taking a chance on the chemistry that the couple have when they get together, is completely worth it. Which perhaps is a meta-experience of the spectator herself: getting invested in the characters and their relationship is OK, even if there is no happy-ever-after.
posted by thetarium at 9:35 AM on June 7, 2016

TONS OF SPOILERS FOLLOW (all for pictures that are at least 35 years old, mostly much older):

To me, the ne plus ultra of a picture with a sad (more like tragic) ending is Masaki Kobayashi's The Human Condition (really a trilogy that comprises No Greater Love, The Road to Eternity, and A Soldier's Prayer). The protagonist, having survived numerous horrors during the war, escapes from a Siberian prison camp and dies alone in the snow.

Similarly: Breaker Morant. Two men executed for no reason except letting the British government cover up its own fuckup.

The Heiress. Catherine's life has been effectively ruined, largely by her monster of a father.

This one may be a bit controversial, but: The Graduate. I think that's a terribly sad movie, and the end, while superficially funny, is actually really tragic, especially for Elaine.

Both The Seven Samurai and High and Low. Especially the former, because the surviving samurai are completely rejected by the people whose lives they saved.
posted by holborne at 9:44 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Roman Holiday.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:44 AM on June 7, 2016 [8 favorites]

Fiddler on the Roof, which I have watched both as a movie and a play many times, because I am a masochist. Seriously, I don't know why I watch it. It's the most depressing things ever. I have maybe 5 movie DVDs and this is one of them.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:47 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think I'd have a hard time narrowing this down. I don't intentionally seek out sad or tragic movies, really, but I suspect that most of my favorite films qualify. Probably my favorite movie of all time is Au Hasard Balthazar, in which the only really admirable character is a donkey, and nobody really has a positive outcome. I have rewatched that tons of times, and will do so again, probably soon now that I'm thinking about it. And just the other day, someone here posted a video with music that reminded me of the score from The Turin Horse, another tragic film featuring an equine, which prompted me to rewatch that again that night.

I've gotten a lot of shit from people who don't understand what I see in unhappy movies. My mom harangued me about that all the time starting when I was a kid, so I have had to formulate some kind of defense to reassure her that I'm not depressed, and I'm not a bad person who likes to watch bad things happen to people.

One big reason is that I don't always watch movies just for the plot. Some of my favorite films have fairly thin or wandering plotlines, but they're immersive and they artfully capture a mood (or multiple moods). I'll vividly remember scenes that are just, say, someone walking down a street. So sometimes, I just appreciate the aesthetics and the filmmaker's ability to create something beautiful and evocative. Watching a really well crafted film is like being inside someone else's head and seeing the world from their perspective. And that is amazing. How could anyone not want to be able to do that sometimes?

And movies with traditional "save the cat" style plots and happy endings often just come across as forced and predictable to me. Obviously, all film is manipulative, but I guess the manipulation feels kind of patronizing or something sometimes, like they're telling a tragic or fraught story, but then they have to tack on a "happy ending" so people feel good at the end. And it's just not realistic to me. It's like a parent realizing halfway through a bedtime story that it's too much, and making up a happily ever after so their kid doesn't have nightmares.

In fact, it's funny you mention Dancer in the Dark, because that sort of exemplifies the kind of forced happiness thing that bothers me.

I didn't like Dancer in the Dark the first time I saw it, but it stuck in my head and sort of articulated certain types of things I encountered in the real world, where a sort of naive, forced chirpiness served as a type of denial. Here is when it hit me: It was a flyer for a pathetic corporate "beach party" in a conference room for like an hour in the middle of the day. And the "I've seen it all" scene came back to me, pretty much whole, because it helped me articulate what made it feel so tragic to me.

And really, a lot of my favorite movies fall into that pattern. I don't realize how much I appreciate them until I've walked around with them in my head for a while. Some films so perfectly and so subtly capture some experience or perspective that I don't even realize it until I've had it pop up in my head a few times.

So I have rewatched Dancer in the Dark, and I've also rewatched Breaking the Waves and The Idiots, which are the other two in von Trier's golden hearts trilogy, which center on the theme of a naive, sort of childlike protagonists in grotesque, horrifying situations. They don't end happily, at least in a traditional storyline sense, but maybe there's something like acceptance.

So for me, one of the major things I love about movies (and I do love movies) is that they can capture and explore nuanced ideas and feelings immersively, using visuals, motion, sound, and dialog. And most emotions and ideas aren't just unqualified happiness. Nor are they unqualified sadness and misery. They're more complicated than that. It's acknowledging and articulating human experiences, which are strange and tangled and difficult to articulate and are rarely just good or bad, happy or sad. Because life isn't like that.

So maybe the main thing I value is the relatability. The fact that movies capture something true about the human experience, and a lot of human experience isn't particularly 'happy.'
posted by ernielundquist at 9:55 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Farewell My Concubine. Because it's beautiful, exquisitely beautiful, & sad and did I mention beautiful.

Holy shit yes. I have been trying to remember the name of this movie for months now. It is SO SAD, SO SO SAD, the ending is HOLY SHIT SAD, but I would 100% watch it again.

1) The epic span of the movie which covers several influential decades of recent Chinese history is edifying and educational to watch.

2) The costumes. That yellow costume omg.

3) While the vast majority of the movie is sad, there are lots of facets to explore. I think about the teacup smashing scene a lot. I think of the first time Douzi recites his part for strangers and is beaten by his friend for messing it up a lot. I think about what it means for Douzi to recite "I am by nature a girl, not a boy" an awful lot. I really, really think about why Douzi chose THAT specific time at the end of the movie. Why THEN? WHY THEN?

4) Now that I am thinking about it again, I want to watch the ending again to try to see if I can figure out WHY, before it happens, even though I know the choice that will be made.


Anyway, those are some reasons why people like tragedy.
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:57 AM on June 7, 2016

So these are more bittersweet than tragic, but I like them because they make beauty out of scary situations and help me prepare mentally and make sense of loss and struggle.

1. Me, Earl and the Dying Girl
2. Silver Linings Playbook
3. Up
4. Forrest Gump
5. Big Fish

All really wonderful stories. They are realistic and have complex characters.
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 10:11 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Every few years, my husband and I re-watch the entirety of Six Feet Under


Many of the episodes are emotional, but the finale makes us both cry every.single.time. It depicts the death of all of the characters on the show, characters who you have grown to know and love over the years. Some of the deaths are tragic, some are not, but either way, it's a reminder that everyone dies. I think we like it so much because we are so invested in the characters, it's interesting to see how their story "ends.". We also have dealt with a lot of health issues and loss in our own lives, and so I think it's a way to think about life and how everyone struggles in different ways and to different degrees, and it's not up to any of us to figure out how or why these things happen.
posted by nuclear_soup at 10:15 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'd say the romantic movies "Comet" and "Before Midnight" (the last of the trilogy by Linklater) would fit into this category of film, where conditions don't work out quite the way that you'd want them to in the end, but you're admirably appreciative of how it could have been, or you make peace ultimately that things don't always work out perfectly even with the best intent.

In the case of Comet, I like that you're compelled to revisit your own life to make sure that you're taking all the chances you need to take, rather than moving into a backseat position - the suggestion is that it might, after all, have worked out differently, perhaps even in a 'closer universe' than one would think - but it didn't; no, not in this one. Before Midnight got to me, on the other hand, because it pokes well-deserved holes in the muse/poet lovers' archetype, while still retaining a highly incisive human-experience connection that defines life after the pair's honeymoon period has died off and faded away. While I wouldn't call it subversive, but it certainly made me take a good look at the dynamics in my life that match up with this idea.

Both were beautifully cathartic in popping the bubbles of wishful thinking, in contrast to my normally-romantic point of view.
posted by a good beginning at 10:37 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Okay, this one is gonna sound bizarre as all hell, but - for some reason, 1991's The Rapture came to mind. In that, Mimi Rogers is a bored telephone operator by day who distracts herself with random hookups by night, and then undergoes a religious conversion and marries one of her hookups. Then after a few years, when they have a kid, first her husband is shot by a burglar and then she starts getting visions that she should kill her kid and herself in some kind of sacrificial pact with God, and (I think?) actually kills the kid but can't shoot herself and she ends up going to jail - but then the actual Rapture actually happens, and she is brought up to Heaven; but at the last minute she realizes that you know what, God has really screwed her over throughout her whole life, and she realizes she doesn't love God after all. And the movie ends with her realizing that since she sincerely and honestly doesn't love God, she is now stuck in this empty limbo sort of space, staring over towards a Heaven where she can never go, forever.

Okay, now lemme 'splain why I thought of this movie to answer your question.

1. I would indeed watch it again. Granted, one of the reasons is that David Duchovny is the guy who ends up her husband and he wears this GHASTLY mullet for a couple scenes and it's funny, but also I would watch it again because it has the courage to end like that, with a super-bleak ending with her standing in Limbo and realizing it is forever, without shoehorning in some last-minute literal come-to-Jesus thing. You never get to see "heaven" in the film, all you see is this dark empty field where she's standing all by herself, as the ghost of her daughter comes to ask her one last time if she loves God, and then the ghost disappears when she says "no" and that's that.

2. The reason why that ending affects me so much is indeed because of its honesty - there are people who just can't and don't and won't buy in to faith. I realize it sounds like I'm pleased at how the non-believers are punished - but quite the contrary, I actually love that for this character, her own sincere beliefs and thoughts are more important than the promise of a paradise. Even though she knows she is going to be stuck there "forever" if she says she doesn't love God, she just simply cannot make herself love a God that has treated her like this, and if that means she's stuck there forever, then so be it. She accepts the consequences of what her own thoughts and beliefs have brought her. Which, honestly, is noble as all hell; even though the consequences are the absolute worst.

3. Which is maybe why I recommended this, and also may answer your questions about "why do people watch tragedies" - because sometimes we want to see entertainment that acknowledges that life is not always perfect. If all we ever see in movies or TV or plays are whatever are happy endings, that feels dishonest, because sometimes things don't work out. Sometimes the underdog loses the match, or the big dreamer gets sucked in by his dreams and kills himself without reconciling with his son, or the lovers never get to live happily ever after. Sometimes that happens in the real world too, and we need art to acknowledge that it happens that way sometimes. And we also want to see how the main characters deal with it when things go south, because maybe that has lessons for how we can also deal with it when things go south; will we kill ourselves because we just can't deal, or will we stay stoic and say "welp, the alternative is to abandon my principles, so oh well"?

Anyway. That's a very longwinded answer, but that's mine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:47 AM on June 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

The Grand Budapest Hotel, while an absolutely beautiful, charming and funny* film, is actually quite sad and tragic on multiple levels. Nevertheless, it became an instant favorite of mine and I love returning to that world even though it leaves you feeling wistful at the end. Norman Eisen's review, The Grand Budapest Hotel Is a Thoughtful Comedy About Tragedy, is insightful.

*YMMV; I know people tend to absolutely love or absolutely hate Wes Anderson's style. I'd call myself ambivalent about some of his other work, but I think The Grand Budapest Hotel transcends (or maybe it just perfects) a lot of the stylistic quirks Anderson is often criticized for.
posted by usonian at 10:52 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Easy Rider for the way it captures the 1960s counterculture. Oh, and Jack Nicholson.
posted by doctord at 12:05 PM on June 7, 2016

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) & Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind come to mind. The latter is well covered above, but since I haven't seen the former mentioned:

It's not one I can rewatch *often* (but then, I don't rewatch movies in general often), but I love watching the way it plays out and the catharsis of it. Each of the elements come together to create something which you know is coming (but you don't want) but you can see the progression and it's beautiful and sad and beautiful.
posted by CrystalDave at 1:44 PM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Blue Valentine

The Royal Tenenbaums (?)
Waltz with Bashir (a doc, compelling story though)
Amores Perros
Lost in Translation
For sure Pan's Labyrinth
Marie Antoinette
The Hours
Young Adult
Heck, even Suckerpunch had a really sad ending
posted by speakeasy at 1:45 PM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Fallen" with Denzel Washington would fit the bill for me. Great movie, definitely rewatchable, but the ending is surprisingly bleak.
posted by tacodave at 1:47 PM on June 7, 2016

I think you can watch something for an appreciation of the craft, the virtuosity of the filmmaking or storytelling. And beyond that, sadness and tragedy are human things as much as joy and comedy.

Pan's Labyrinth is mentioned frequently above--and presumably many viewers love the story. Fewer probably love the end, but it is a valid and resonant ending. How about Herzog's Stroszek? That is about as bleak as it gets, but I've watched it repeatedly.

Or how about films like Gallipoli or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Both spiral inevitably to their tragic conclusions, but those conclusions make the stories what they are (and, well, they are based on fact).

I am with you on Dancer in the Dark and similar films that feel emotionally manipulative. Experiments in twisting the knife. Don't need to see that one again.
posted by Kafkaesque at 2:13 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

A little out of left field but Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) ends with the crucifixion (if you squint, there is a closing shot that could maybe be a metaphor for the resurrection). I generally watch it once a year.

Oldboy (2003)
posted by sparklemotion at 2:33 PM on June 7, 2016

La Strada. I've seen it 3 times and cried every time.
posted by xammerboy at 2:40 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just rewatched Carlito's Way and I think it has a pretty classic tragic structure.

I do have some confusion with the framing of your question. As a former classics major, I think of tragedy as something that's not necessarily "sad." The Oedipus cycle isn't "sad," unless you have the view that the point of Oedipus at Colonus is something like, "This guy had an awful life and then he died; well, that is sad." There is something much more transcendent about tragedy in that classical Greek sense.
posted by BibiRose at 3:22 PM on June 7, 2016

Roma città aperta
Germania anno zero

Seriously, germania anno zero is a film with absolutely no hope, no redemption. It is a straight tragedy. And because it is also beautiful and symbolic, Rossellini caches you out every time.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 3:27 PM on June 7, 2016

Heaven's Gate, for the beauty and the graceful complexity and the bravery. The films of John Sayles, eg City of Hope, and Matewan, for his clear vision of the way the world works.
posted by mmiddle at 3:34 PM on June 7, 2016

for some reason, 1991's The Rapture came to mind

Good call, EmpressCallipygos. I've only seen this once, but I would watch it again. In that last scene, I remember being struck by how that final offer of reprieve and ascension to heaven seemed so clearly an "offer," with strings tightly attached, because the omniscient divine judge had to know that Mimi's character was in a profoundly human state of emotional durress, a moment when she couldn't truthfully answer affirming that she loved god. But asks anyway. It feels like an unwinnable proposition, either lie before an all-knowing god or tell the truth before an affirmation-seeking god. False witness or heretic. Both broken commandments. Apostasy is guaranteed. Tragic as hell / heaven!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:03 PM on June 7, 2016

There is a film I recently saw called About Time, from 2013. It's not a tragedy per se, but the ending is sweetly sad. It's about a man who finds out from his father that the men in his lineage can will themselves to travel back in time to where they've been before (and back again if they want), and get as many "do-overs" as they want. The film is pretty sweet and quirky, no massive catastrophic butterfly effects, but there are consequences to changing things, as he discovers. The film spans many years of the character's life, from pursuing his love interest, to winning her and starting a family, and then dealing with his father dying. Knowing the rules of their time-traveling, father and son come to terms with knowing they will eventually have to say goodbye forever, for the sake of the son's children.
posted by lizbunny at 5:54 PM on June 7, 2016

Blood Simple

Jeux Interdit

It is not as easy to get emotionally engaged when good things happen to someone you care about as when something bad happens.

So you won the lottery and are filthy rich now? How nice.

Your kid just got killed?! Oh FUCK....

Bad stuff and scary stuff cuts deeper.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:52 PM on June 7, 2016

The Misfits. Cowboys in the remnants of the west--but they are rounding up wild mustangs for dog food. It's grim and I will watch it every time I get the chance. Gable & Monroe & Clift play it perfectly--they know they are at the end of their careers, their incredible beauty fading, and put everything into the film. It feels like you're looking into their souls.
posted by mrcrow at 7:53 PM on June 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

I've watched Unbearable Lightness of Being more than once, and I'd watch it again. Sad, but uplifting.

Brazil & Breaker Morant I'd watch again, because they're damn fine movies.

Happiness is a sad song.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:42 PM on June 7, 2016

This is a great question and I love the varying responses. The one film I have watched many, many times is Stanley Kramer's adaptation of On the Beach. Of course, no spoiler, everyone in the world dies, but it isn't sad just because everyone dies. It's the scene between Peter (Anthony Hopkins) and Mary (Donna Anderson) that gets me every time. (If you only knew what she means by "Peter, I think I'll have that cup of tea now." I love that ending

Winter Light by Ingmar Bergman is another favorite of mine. I've watched it several times.

Satantango by Bela Tarr if you can make it through the whole thing. I wish there were a condensed version. I think it could be great. Werckmeister Harmonies is another tragic film by him that I've watched many times.

I've watched Frankenheimer's film version of The Iceman Cometh many times.

The Tree of Wooden Clogs by Ermanno Olmi, a great Italian director who is often forgotten because of the attention paid to Fellini, Antonioni, etc. I haven't seen that one in a while but want to watch it again. I love Olmi.

Late August at the Hotel Ozone will keep you in your seat. I've watched that 4 or 5 times.

And, finally, Andrzej Wajda, the Polish director has several excellent films that fit this category. Kanal would be my top pick, which is part of his own war trilogy (watching Rosselini's and Wajda's War Trilogies is a great experience in film).

I also love Germany, Year Zero by Rosselini that someone else mentioned above.
posted by perhapses at 9:38 PM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Two other films that strike me as sad and tragic are Lilya 4-Ever and Oslo August 31st. I'd say that Lilya 4-Ever is probably the most depressing movie I've ever seen. Lilya's life in a former USSR state is just bleak as hell. Her attempt at a better, more prosperous life do not turn out well for her. What she goes through (and ultimately her end) is tragic, but it comes with a sense of peace. In Oslo August 31st, Anders' problems are more self inflicted (I guess) than Lilya's, but these are characters who could have had better lives if the opportunities arose (in Lilya's case) or could recognize those opportunities (in Anders' case). Both films do an excellent job at ending on a tragic, but peaceful note. The only endings these two characters could have had is a tragic one.

I suggested The Umbrellas of Cherbourg before, which is probably more of a weepie than a straight up tragedy, I guess.
posted by modesty.blaise at 9:43 PM on June 7, 2016

I just now watched Pixar's Inside Out and it made me think of this question. The ending is not a sad ending, but the whole movie is about how important it is to embrace sadness. And crying during the sad parts felt good, and I would do it again.
posted by ejs at 10:40 PM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Kurosawa's overlooked gem, Dersu Uzala. It's a lovely, simple story about friendship that just happens to have a very sad ending.

To a lesser extent, No Country for Old Men (I'm noticing a bunch of Coen Brothers in this thread), partially because it's simply a masterpiece of editing, blocking, sound design, plotting, etc; partially for the performance from Javier Bardem; partially for the ambiguity and potential hope expressed in the film's closing lines, despite all the nastiness that's gone down.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 10:52 PM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I can't believe no one has put Casablanca!
posted by eglenner at 4:38 AM on June 8, 2016

I would definitely watch Blue Jasmine again despite it's sad ending because It's so interesting to see how someone can fall from a lofty social position, and how fragile that position is. It brings conflicting feelings because although the main character is self-centered and shallow, you can understand how such a lifestyle can lead someone to become that way. As the pillars of her life and sanity fall away you can see the train wreck coming and how without the support of friends, family or her own self worth, she is lost in life.

Lilya4ever was unforgettable but don't think I could watch it again - dashed hopes then utter hopelessness. That film will stay with me for ever.
posted by guy72277 at 7:34 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'll recommend a Belgian movie that won Best Foreign Film a couple years ago: The Broken Circle Breakdown. Especially if you like bluegrass music. Heart-crushingly sad, but in a good way.
posted by soonertbone at 9:50 AM on June 8, 2016

Jean de Florette followed by Manon des Sources.
posted by whuppy at 1:18 PM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Coming back in to add that Roger Ebert apparently freakin' LOVED The Rapture, so that's giving my endorsement some more weight.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 AM on June 10, 2016

I saw Milos Forman's Hair two or three times when it came out and again a few years later, and I would gladly watch it again now.

Not a movie but a play: Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, which I have seen at least three (four?) times and would gladly see again and again.

Not a movie but a musical (which I have only heard but not seen, but would see every day for the rest of my life, given the chance and the time): Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, which I have listened to four or five times, which makes me cry every time, and which I am absolutely planning to listen to again in the next few weeks.

For me, one answer to the question of "why" is that, when I see (or hear) it again, I get to spend more time with these characters that I really love. Really, any moment I get to spend with Thomasina or Septimus is a moment I cherish.
posted by kristi at 10:34 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Adding Chinatown to Mothlight's answer and note that a good deal of noir fits your conditions. This fits them all. Polanski fought with the writer to switch out a happy ending. The screenplay and direction are both masterpieces, and Jack Nicholson is of course eminently watchable.

I probably couldn't bear rewatching 2 1/2 hours of gloom and solid tragedy either - but you asked about endings. Noirs tend to avoid the bleakness trap, despite their themes, by having an enjoyable protagonist who occasionally gets the upper hand (though it's never for long).
posted by Quagkapi at 5:12 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'll definitely re-watch Inside Llewyn Davis and Brazil because it is interesting to study why the characters are in the predicaments that they're in, and because of the beautiful film-making. I think it's interesting to meditate upon how they struggle through a hostile world and/or their own faults. The fact that these movies can show this so well makes them relatable and true.
posted by polecat at 2:34 PM on June 14, 2016

Silent Running

Because, well, Ray Bradbury said it best: "I don't write to predict the future. I write to prevent it."
posted by hank at 3:44 PM on June 14, 2016

I recommend Life is Beautiful. It's an Italian movie about the Holocaust in which a man and his son try to get by in a concentration camp. It is incredibly sad and touching and has beautiful cinematography to boot. I do not cry easily but this movie turns me into a blubbering mess every time.
posted by foobaz at 3:45 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Edward Scissorhands
posted by raider at 4:27 PM on June 14, 2016

Beaches (How has no one mentioned this yet. I actually went and check that the film ended the way I remembered).

There's a fair few movies like this, where people die from terminal diseases. They are pretty popular. Life as a House I would watch again. Two Weeks. A Walk to Remember. Steel Magnolias. I think they're mostly about hope that the end of life can have some meaning.
posted by kjs4 at 11:34 PM on June 14, 2016

I have two films that are quite similar in plot: a British author must help himself and a child cope with grief and loss. I wouldn't call them tragedies because it's about simple death but it makes me melancholy because of the authors' struggle with grief. So it's not the sad endings that I value (per your question) but the coping/surviving that I value.

Shadowlands. Anthony Hopkins (again) plays C.S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia children's books. Interestingly, C.S. Lewis wrote a book called "The Problem of Pain" where he tries to reconcile pain with a loving God.

Finding Neverland. Johnny Depp plays J. M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, who befriends a family that must deal with death.

I watch both of these for personal reasons, to give some perspective (or perhaps to give meaning) to personal memories of my own. Therefore I don't have any sense of whether they would be "sad/enjoyable" to others. The fact that they illuminate part of my experience that I haven't been able to, makes them valuable to me in spite of the sadness. In fact, it's the sadness that makes them valuable. I generally don't need help with the happy memories.
posted by acheekymonkey at 6:06 AM on June 15, 2016

+1 for Big Fish. I tear up just thinking about the burial.....it made me think of my own father. I still rememeber jumping up off the couch in tears, my wife astonished. I have not watched it again. My dad is still alive and doing well; I think the burial scene was like a premonition of what will come, that just rang crystal clear for me.
posted by nanolightbender at 8:48 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by klausman at 10:07 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Anna Karenina
posted by cass at 10:49 AM on June 15, 2016

Midnight Cowboy (surprised this one hasn't been mentioned already -- did i miss it?)
Miller's Crossing
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Paths Of Glory
Aguirre, The Wrath Of God
(and seconding Stroszek, by Herzog -- good God, what a bleak film. Ian Curtis watched it just before he killed himself.)
Angel Heart
True Confessions
Touch of Evil
posted by newmoistness at 5:16 PM on June 15, 2016

Good god, where do I even start? I could list thousands of things that are well-crafted, riveting, and deeply moving or wounding. I rewatch a lot of films multiple times if they engage me, even ones that aren't particular favorites, so a rewatch isn't some type of rare special honor I confer only on masterpieces.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father -- although I'd need to steel myself because the first time was pretty fucking shattering
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica
Ethan Frome and House of Mirth
The Deer Hunter
Ryan's Daughter
Les Miserables (the play, not the icky film, but still)

It's actually more revealing/interesting for me to think of the ones I cannot bear to watch again, since those are the exceptional cases: #1 -- Dumbo. Also, I will never watch even one frame Au Hasard Balthasar a first time just based on the summary. Both of those have plots centering on human-to-animal cruelty, which is my personal Waterloo.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:38 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica

This. Especially the former, which is built around a shocking tragedy which is portrayed at a very careful distance. Beautiful and heartbreaking, with some excellent performances.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 4:32 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Far From Heaven. At the end, as she's watching the train move away, she has NOBODY.

Sad for me because I lived it: a woman who loved a closeted gay man, and wondered why he never touched her. But willing to watch again because it addresses so many different nuances of racism and homophobia.
posted by Melismata at 12:55 PM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Stella Dallas were the first two that came to mind.
posted by mynameisluka at 1:47 PM on June 17, 2016

Garage - an Irish film from 2007.

It's brutally bleak, but it shows a particular side of Irish life and streak of meanness that I think is worth remembering and reflecting on.
posted by knapah at 4:39 PM on June 17, 2016

One Flew Over The Cookoo's Nest
posted by Room 641-A at 9:09 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Germany, Pale Mother
There Will Be Blood
The Magdaline Sisters
Heavenly Creatures
Lord yes, The Deerhunter
posted by staggering termagant at 6:18 PM on June 19, 2016

I've been watching a lot of Japanese movies for my pet project, so I kind of have Japanese movies on the mind.

The Naked Island is unrelentingly, brutally sad, and one of the best movies ever made. I described it in FanFare as, "one of my favorite human cultural artifacts period."

Ikiru from Kurosawa has been mentioned, so my second choice would be Kinoshita's The Ballad of Narayama. It's an excellent movie that rewards multiple viewings, and is really, really sad.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:39 AM on June 20, 2016

Million Dollar Baby?
posted by Urtylug at 1:55 PM on June 21, 2016

Oh, hey.

This just came up in my RSS feed and I thought, "Oh, there is an Ask I should put this in," so I am doing that now.

10 Great Movies That Deal With Philosophical Pessimism
posted by ernielundquist at 1:07 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've got a very personal definition of tragedy, and it's based in the idea that, from the beginning of the story, the audience is aware that the protagonist is going to die, or even fail at their task, from the beginning of the story. The trick is that the story then has to pull us in, and make us cheer for the protagonist, make us hope that what we know (their upcoming death) can be avoided somehow, so that the end, when it comes, is a true shock, something that we rebel against. Films that pull this off always gut me.

There's a subset of them, though, that hurt to even think about. Those are the movies, or stories, where at the end, you are being told a story by the character. You are offered a happy ending, a place where the events happy differently, and it is everything you hope for and wish for the character, but in the end, it's not true, it was just a story, or was always impossible anyway.

Big Fish does that amazingly well, with the attendant reveal that there was some truth there, after all. Just typing that is bringing tears to my eyes. It's a very difficult film to watch after your father dies, I'll leave it at that.

25th hour does an amazing job of it, helped by Bryan Cox's narration of the story you want so badly to believe.

And, as silly as it may seem, Pompoko, or Heisei Tanuki Gassen (the Heisei Era Tanuki war) has an absolute heart of sorrow. It's about the destruction of the last, largest habitat for Tanuki in the seventies, in order to make more housing to deal with a population boom in Japan. It's based on that actual event, but it approaches it as if tanuki really were the magical shapeshifters of legend. They try to trick the construction workers, they try to scare them. When that fails, they try to fight, and they lose, badly. In the end, the survivors try to dream back the past, and it's an incredibly powerful sequence, but, that too, fails, and it is heart rending. I can't recommend it enough.

Damn. Now I'm all sad.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:41 PM on June 25, 2016

How about Raise the Red Lantern? Gorgeously shot, catfighting women, requisite depressing ending.
posted by olopua at 8:22 PM on July 7, 2016

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