Friday 13 August 2010

Disturbing Moments in Film

The following is a small selection of the most disturbing moments I have seen. Fear, empathy, revelations and troubling implications, being disturbed is more than a shock - it strikes at the core.

Pulse - Fade to Black

A girl fades to black and tumbles into a swarm of ash. Pulse is about a disconnected and rootless generation through whom despair has grown viral. This heartbreaking image, one of many in this excellent film, shows a generation of Japanese lost not to exterior forces but interior ones.

Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me and Halloween
Hiding in Plain View

What is worse than a tormentor so oblivious and unconcerned with their own position as to hide in plain view? They tease, taunt, and mock us. They have only one thing on their minds - to cause us suffering.

Akasen Chitai/Street of Shame - The New Girl

In the final shot of Kenji Mizoguchi's story of a brothel, a young debutante prostitute peers out onto the streets for the first time. She tries meekly to attract a man, terrified at the same time that she might. 

Paprika - Removing her skin

Osanai pins Paprika (Chiba's dreamworld persona) to a table, thrusts his hand into her and violently tears away her skin -  revealing a naked Chiba beneath. It is a hellish image of rape. One thinks of how vulnerable reality is once it has been stripped nude of fantasy.

The Exorcist - Regan undergoes an operation

It is excruciating to share Regan's pain and her mother's anguish as the surgeons try to alleviate the symptoms of her possession. These scenes are so much more impactful than the lavishly choreographed fury that overtakes the climax, where Regan is lost in the eye of a storm.

Titus - Lavinia's agony

We come across Lavinia who has been raped and mutilated, her tongue cut out. Now she has only twigs where her hands once were. It is a type of crucifixion. The tragedy, where Lavinia is returned to a barbaric, natural, inhuman state, inspires great pity.

Paperhouse - Taking a photo

Anna remembers / dreams of taking a photo of her father. Cheerily he poses for her on the rocks only to suddenly jerk forward with a ghastly expression that sends a shudder trembling through the film.

Alien3 - Scan

A corruption of the intimacy and nurturing pleasures of motherhood. Ripley scans herself, afraid that she may have been impregnated by an alien. In a twitching, frozen and grey image lies her worst nightmare. She will give birth to a monster.

City of Lost Children - So many Santas

A santa comes down a young boy's chimney, as he watches mesmerised from his cot. Slowly, with the screen wobbling and distorting, the Father Christmases keep on appearing through the door and the window. You can have too much of a good thing.

Showgirls - Farewell and Hello

Leaving Las Vegas exploiter and exploited, Nomi embraces her cheap and sleazy existence in return for fame and a dubious "success". Never has the road to Los Angeles been so dispiriting. In a marvellous coup, Paul Verhoeven makes Hollywood the punchline of a sick joke.


  1. fantastic! particularly appreciate the inclusion of Showgirls, part of Verhoeven's extraordinary mid-1990s one-two sucker punch of underground-films-in-blockbuster-clothing

  2. Really disturbing set of images indeed, Stephen. Haven't seen any of the films,but I now get a general idea of them. Knowing your love for Antichrist, I did expect it to make the cut.

    A very innovative meme too...

  3. Excellent images. Titus disturbs me the most, though (because I'm obvious).

  4. Thanks very much Dave.

    "part of Verhoeven's extraordinary mid-1990s one-two sucker punch of underground-films-in-blockbuster-clothing"

    That's a good description.

  5. Thank you, JAFB.

    If I was to recommend one of these films it would be PULSE, a very unsettling horror film full of strong scenes.

    "Knowing your love for Antichrist, I did expect it to make the cut."

    I couldn't think of one instance from the film, Its flow, the accumulation of its moments, is what disturbed me.

  6. Thanks, Simon.

    It's a film that doesn't get talked about much. Maybe with the release of Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST, people will revisit her first Shakespeare film.

  7. Stephen, a great accumulation of images. I especially like the choices for "Paprika" and "Alien 3"-- that movie in particularly balances itself out with some of the most cathartic and triumphant images of the series with Ripley's ultimate sacrifice at the end.

    My own personal choices might include-- The decaying clown-grimace from "Inland Empire"; Luke's 'failure at the cave' from "The Empire Strikes Back"; the final shots of "Crimes of the Future", as Adrian Tripod 'senses the presence of Antoine Rouge'; the revelation of Henry Fonda as Frank from "Once Upon a Time in the West"; the strange, sad game that children play in "THX 1138"; the robot-Maria burnt at the stake in "Metropolis"; and god help me (because I'm not too fond of the movie to put it in this line up) Heath Ledger's Joker in "The Dark Knight" during the Mayor's speech, sans make-up.

  8. Thanks a lot, Bob.

    "balances itself out with some of the most cathartic and triumphant images of the series with Ripley's ultimate sacrifice at the end."

    Yes. It's a sacrifice undermined a little by her (cloned) reappearance in ALIEN RESURRECTION (though I do like that first image of her in the chamber).

    Good choices of your own - I was pondering the moment in THX 1138 where he is having a sort of fit whilst men watch him on the camera, talking banalities to each other.