There are a small number of movies that I enjoyed, but would never want to sit through again. The first example that springs to mind in this category is Blood Diamond, Edward Zwick’s 2006 film about civil war in Sierra Leone. From what I recall — it’s been 15 years — the central performances by Leonardo DiCaprio & Djimon Hounsou are excellent, and the film is a very well-directed, taut thriller. What I do remember very clearly however, is the feeling of sitting in front of the end credits, thinking ‘that was really good, and I never want to see it again’.
There isn’t a large number of these movies for me. It’s a tricky category to fall into, since the film has to be both genuinely impressive and so emotionally exhausting that I couldn’t face it a second time. Within this small group, however, there is an even smaller subset of films that disturbed and exhausted me, and yet which are so brilliant that I will in fact watch them again (and again). There are only a handful such films, the most prominent amongst them: Nicolas Winding Refn’s wildly under-appreciated The Neon Demon (2016), and Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (2017)1. A couple of years ago, when I put together a list of my all time favourite movies, these two came in 20th & 5th respectively. They are both body horror pictures in some sense, though it’s not the graphic violence or gore that ever gets to me – it’s the way that the directors ratchet up the tension, click by click, without any respite for the viewer. Couple this with a sympathetic central character, portrayed by a stellar actor, and these films become so emotionally fraught for me as to become a physical experience – art that reaches past the cerebrum to provoke a limbic response.
Illustration by Ollie Tilney
All of which is to say that I recently added a new title to this list: Julia Ducournau’s Titane (2021).
In some respects, the less a potential viewer knows going in to the movie, the better — so much of the film’s power is derived from the ways in which it flaunts expectations. I will say that Ducournau’s script and direction are unbounded; Ruben Impens’s camera is unflinching; and Agathe Rousselle’s debut performance in a feature film is as raw and fearless as they come. It’s an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, and a worthy Palme d’Or winner. The only reservations I have about recommending it wholeheartedly are around viewer disposition – it’s assuredly not for everyone.
Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000) is also in this rarified group. ↩︎