Five Truly Nihilist Movies You May Not Have Seen
God is dead, all love is fallacy, and the only hope we have is that we are truly hopeless. Nihilism and I have a strange relationship. Because as much as I try to take massive leaps beyond it, something hopeless happens, rising up out of nowhere like a wall, and knocks me off my feet, reminding me that nihilism exists for a reason. Or does it? Some claim nihilism even negates a belief in morality or even, actual reality in some cases. So, there is no point to anything, and we don’t actually exist. Nihilism is the pessimists way to sound like they are more existential than whiny, even though the two go hand in hand sometimes. And if the theory of nihilism escapes you completely and you need more examples, well, this list is for you. These are the movies that, by the time they end, make you feel like there is no point at all to life and that all our actions amount to nothing more than ashes. And while I already talked nihilist directors, this time I am talking specific movies, and specifically movies you’ve probably missed. But go into this knowing that these movies are incredibly heavy, and it is not a good idea to watch them in a depressed mental state. No, seriously, a few of these are that fucked up. .
Dead Man’s Shoes
If I was asked, right now, to recommend ONE MOVIE from Netflix for people to stream and watch tonight, it would be Dead Man’s Shoes. But I would also warn people that this movie will crush you. It really will.
Dead Man’s Shoes is the story of a young man who was away fighting for the British military, and comes home to find out some drug dealers have taken in his special-needs brother, and have been abusing him and demeaning him for their own pleasure. The older brother, Richard, is played by Paddy Considine, and I have no hesitation telling you it is one of the most stark and unnerving portrayals of a man caught up in the spiral of revenge and madness that I have ever seen. You WILL get chills watching this film.
But you need to know, it is not just a revenge or redemption story. It is something much deeper and much darker than that, and if the last fifteen minutes of this movie don’t beat the shit out of you, you may not have a soul. Which, ironically, is very nihilist of you.
Red, White and Blue
Another movie I only found because of Netflix, and only watched because I really like Noah Taylor, and find him an intense and interesting man, but this is not your “sit down with some popcorn and watch for fun” kind of movie. This is a “need to bleach my soul after watching it” kind of movie. Red, White and Blue is a movie about, truthfully, it is hard to divulge a great deal about the movie without ruining it, but I will try to give you basic idea without saying too much.
Red,White and Blue is the story of a young woman named Erica who is very much lost in life, and who makes some terrible choices. Amid these terrible choices, she meets Nate, an oddly foreboding man who speaks in dark and twisted monologues, and all we know about him is he was dishonorably discharged from fighting in the Iraq war, though we never get the reasons why. These two form an odd “friendship”, but some of Erica’s former indiscretions come back to haunt her in a serious way. And Nate feels oddly compelled to act, even though the true motivations for the severity of his actions are never actually explained to us. And believe me, his actions get quite severe. There is one particular scene with a family bound in a living room, and it is something that was so upsetting it almost made me feel ill.
You know all those metaphorical dark roads in life, filled with things no one ever wants to talk about? Well, this movie drives down all those roads and shines a glaring light on all those things, and does so on purpose. But man, this flick leaves you utterly hopeless.
Johnny Got His Gun
Okay, I know this movie was totally driven by an anti-war agenda, but regardless of that, it is hard to walk away from this movie and not be somewhat traumatized by the hopelessness of it all. I read the book as a kid, and the idea behind it (that, even as a vegetable, unable to move or speak, we can still feel and hear everything) was, and still is, one of the scariest concepts I have ever played with in my mind.
For those who can’t tell from what I have already said, Johnny Got His Gun is about a young man who goes off to war and pretty much gets blown up, but they keep him alive, just barely, on machines. The hook is, he is conscious and can feel and hear everything, and is slowly being devoured by the weight of his own memories, which he can’t escape. And the whole thing ends with the nurses figuring out that his head bobbing is actually morse code, and he is just saying “kill me” over and over. Yeah, real light-hearted stuff that’s fun for the whole family.
And props to Metallica, for making their One video using dialogue and imagery from the actual film, bringing it to a whole new generation and demographic.
Nihilism: Now with its own catchy theme song!
Snowtown (The Snowtown Murders)
Of all the movies on the list, this one is the most messed up, because this one is 100% based on fact. The story is that one man, fed up with some local drug dealers and child fuckers, decided to take it upon himself to groom some young kids in his neighborhood into helping him kill some of these people. It may just sound like vigilantism, but it’s goes much deeper. The whole think stinks of hopelessness, and when you figure out that they are killing people based on rumors, and the rumors from a man who knows they will kill HIM even he doesn’t give names, so he just starts giving names, is even more disturbing. The tub scene in this movie will fuck with you, and the final, closing shot will send a lightning bolt of ice up your spine.
Another hard part of the film to witness is the downward spiral the main kid goes through in this movie as this madman slowly pulls him into his world and turns him into another version of him. Seeing bad stuff happens to adults sucks. Seeing it happen to kids is just unforgivable.
The performances in Snowtown are given with such conviction by all that it feels like you are watching some documentary film that happens to be about murderers. It is a powerful film, and even the people involved WERE brought to justice, this movie is so bleak it never even goes that far and shows you that. It only shows us the ugliest things these people do, and they take nihilism to a whole new level.
Growing up, my Dad owned the film Brazil and really liked it. I would sometimes sit in the room when he watched it, and even though the film is the bleakest of the bleak dystopian future’s, I was too young at the time to grasp that what I was seeing was pure hopelessness and just really loved the visuals.
Then I got older and went without watching Brazil for a good stretch of time. And I must have finally evolved enough as a person, because when I watched it much older in life, it hit me, it REALLY hit me. As much as Terry Gilliam makes visually fantastic films where all his actors give career-turning performances, it is still just a coating of shiny layered on top of nihilism, and none of his work exemplifies that better than Brazil. A movie about a world that, ironically, is not unlike our own right now.
And even though you get that false sense of hope at the end of the film, you find out it is just that, false, and once you learn that, you wither like a flower without sun, folding in on yourself until you cease to exist.
And that, my friends, is nihilism.