Tom Jolliffe on films that leave you speechless…
Cinema can enthral, entertain, amuse, and terrify. You finish a film and you ordinarily have an idea of your feelings on it, or said film will help you wind down with a denouement before the credits roll. Sometimes though, a film finishes and you’re left speechless. You’ve been stunned into open mouthed silence. It may be from sheer knockout power that the film delivers, or it could be in trying to fathom what you’ve seen. I’ve been left lost for words by several of Nicolas Winding Refn’s works, notably Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon particularly. The former I kind of hated on first viewing, but it left an indelible impression (and I got more out of it second time). The latter was just as adverse to instant access but had more of an enigma to it, and will at some juncture call me back for me repeat viewing. Still, for reasons of feeling lost with my verdict, I was kind of dumbfounded for hours after seeing the film.
Some films can exhaust you and hammer you come the end. The Safdie brothers relentless crime thriller, Uncut Gems saw Adam Sandler on top of his game, delivering a performance that was a non-stop explosion of neurosis, compulsion and bad choices. His final moment in the film is a stunner. There’s something blunt and direct. It’s unexpected yes, but in retrospect also not surprising. Still, after such a visceral and head pounding journey, I couldn’t say anything for hours after. I was mulling over the film as a whole and that moment, that caused me to audibly blurt out ‘Oh shit’ in a respectable cinema chain like the Curzon, was a real rug puller. Yes, if you’ve seen that genre, and you see how much Howard Ratner annoys the living shit out of everyone, you know there was a crushing inevitability, but still, it knocked me sideways.
I recall feeling the same after Saving Private Ryan. The infamous, and absolutely nauseatingly tense beach landing sequence sets the tone for a film that doesn’t really let up. It’s a powerful war film with a raw immediacy that almost feels like documentary. Like the best war films it’s blunt, brutal and honest in its depiction of collateral damage. Again, it ended (and much like Spielberg’s earlier war epic Schindler’s List) leaves you a red eyed and shocked mess.
One film, from almost the opening onward just left me persistently speechless. The psychological horror/drama Possession starring Isabelle Adjani. For one thing it’s odd. It’s a very strange and unconventional film. It deals in metaphors but also creates literal monsters and shlock. In the centre though, everything revolves on an astonishing powerhouse performance from Isabelle Adjani. She’s wild eyed and crazy through much of it, but lets loose in the most astonishing way possible with her infamous Subway scene. No sooner than that happens, it sticks with you. You can’t shake it off for the remainder of the film. More oddness and uncomfortable sequences of horror follow, leaving you flabbergasted by the time the credits are rolling.
A couple of Neo-Nazi films hit me particularly hard. Such was the raw emotional power in both, which culminates in tragedy in both cases. On the one hand, This Is England delivers a potent mix of misguided youth, coming of age, Thatcher era despondency turned displaced youth, and misplaced hatred. It’s charming in half, a good kid with the wrong crowd, infiltrated by even worse role-models. One such role model, is a tragi-figure in himself. Plagued by swirling anger within, he’s a young guy who’s been manipulated and mis-sold a hateful ideology. We see how he’s been brainwashed and in turn we see him beginning to manipulated the young fatherless Shaun (Thomas Turgoose). As Combo, Stephen Graham gives an absolutely spine tingling performance. Never mind staying with you for days. If I ever think of the film, and Combo’s final scene, it sends a shiver down my spine. An eruption swelling from years in a mix of environment, influence and self destruction and the crushing moment in the aftermath where he realises just what he’s done. Yet you cannot feel sympathy, even as much as Graham’s performance pushes you to do so.
Even more crushing was American History X. A film about redemption. It pushes the audience by showing a characters descent into a sub-culture, spurred on from his fathers prejudices, made worse in the aftermath of his father dying when he’s taken in by a charismatic neo-nazi guru. The film is powerful from the word go. Sequences are filmed with a haunting, almost balletic quality that capture moments of sheer hatred from Derek Vinyard, leading to him killing a couple of black burglars (which his younger brother witnesses). The more time he spends in prison, the more he begins to realise the futility of his ethos, which is born out of illogical hatred. As his former teacher, the inspirational Sweeney asks Derek, ‘Has anything you’ve done made your life better?’ That moment, that question, which captured Derek in a low moment, really hit me. That it could be so succinctly put. Of course in reality, people still can’t fathom that notion, but Derek does and he heads down a path of redemption. Ultimately his goal is to pull his brother Danny back from the brink. Danny has grown to idolise Derek, a hero within the Neo-Nazi community for his actions. Derek knows it ends one of two ways for Danny following his old path. Danny, still young, and not beyond saving from ruining his life, is gradually brought back round to realise that Derek’s life was destroyed by self destructive racism.
At the end of American History X of course, we see that sometimes, no matter how much you may want to undo the damage, what’s done is done. Redemption comes too late, and through Derek’s life choices, Danny, who followed his path, pays an ultimate price. Boy did that ending knock seven shades of shit out of me. It left me stunned in a way no other film probably has, or will. Even in repeat viewings, I re-watch and the impact of the final scene never loses it’s potency.
Which films left you speechless after watching? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on our twitter page @flickeringmyth.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville Academy (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), Tooth Fairy: The Root of Evil and the star studded action film, Renegades. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.