Tournament of Sadness: Round 1

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This is the first in a series of posts I will be writing to determine the most depressing movie we have in the library’s film collection. I will be watching 16 devastating movies in the coming months — feel free to join in the “fun” and share your feedback!

Illustration courtesy of Dan Wyke:


A while back I got into a discussion with my co-workers about movies they’d seen that they found super depressing. This discussion turned into a film display, and lo and behold, we had a hard time keeping it stocked. It turns out that some people love depressing movies, and even more so, they love talking about depressing movies.

I’m actually not one to seek out sad movies. While I occasionally enjoy challenging films, I have a long list of movies I’ve always intended to watch but have never been in the “right mood” for (i.e. the mood to get super depressed by a movie). And so the Tournament of Sadness was born. After polling friends, colleagues and Google, I have come up with a list of 16 difficult films to watch, and will set about watching and reviewing each in the coming months, eventually crowning a “winner.”

Feel free to watch along at home (or on second thought, maybe not). So let’s get to it, let’s get sad!

Round 1: Terminal Illness Bracket

Cries and Whispers (1972)


Things you will encounter in this film: clocks (so, so many clocks), the color red, Victorian hairdos, cancer.

Well, the tournament is certainly off to a good start. Originally I was going to review a sad little Canadian movie called My Life Without Me, but didn’t feel it was quite depressing enough. A colleague noted that my list was lacking a Bergman film, and after asking around, it seemed like this film might be adequately crushing.

I am so glad that this movie was only 91 minutes long. I grew up with all older brothers and was always a little sad that I didn’t have a sister. After watching this film I am eternally grateful for never having had a sister. It perfectly captures how sisterhood can go so, so terribly wrong — seriously, this family has so many problems I don’t even know where to begin. While one sister, Agnes, is slowly dying of cancer, her siblings Karin and Maria are unable to reach out to her or show her the affection she so deeply craves. The only admirable character in the film (aside from poor Agnes) is the family’s put upon servant Anna. She is the only character in the film who could be said to show any sort of genuine mercy or caring.

So, did this film bum me out? Yes. This is a deeply miserable family to hang out with for an hour and a half. The acting is very stylized though, and I found it hard to care about any of the pain these awful sisters might be feeling.

Score on a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 being the most depressing.

Hopelessness: 3

Existential Dread: 3.5

Despair: 3

Total: 3.17 tearTearses



Amour (2012)

Things you will encounter in this film: an adorable French couple, a debilitating stroke, slow deterioration and memory loss.

There are words I would like to use to describe my response to this movie, but I will not use them, because this is a family blog.

I had seen a few other Michael Haneke films, but was not expecting to be as affected by this movie as I was. Part of this has to do with the tone of his other movies, which often place the audience at an emotional remove from their subjects. This film has none of the emotional distancing of his earlier work — it is very personal and raw, and feels intimate to a degree that it is as though you’re watching something you shouldn’t, something private.

The story (as it were) in a nutshell: Georges and Anne are a loving couple in their 80s who have spent their lives together studying and teaching music. Anne suffers a stroke, and goes in for a surgery, but it is not successful. They are told that Anne is slowly going to get worse over time, and that is essentially what we witness over the film’s 127-minute running time. We see Anne’s slow deterioration and Georges (and her nurses) caring for her.

It is a beautiful and humane film, and is very well acted by its leads…but I will probably never watch it again.

Score on a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 being the most depressing.

Hopelessness: 3

Existential Dread: 4

Despair: 4.5

Total: 3.83 tears Graphic

Next post I will be tackling Sadness Abroad by reviewing Come and See and Lilya 4eva.

What about you? What’s the saddest movie you’ve watched? Feel free to share in the comments below!


Feel like getting bummed out? Check out the “winner” today!


Tara is a Librarian in the Music, Film & Audio Department, and loves to make film & book recommendations. Some of her interests include gardening, cookbooks, foreign films, comedy albums and devastating literary fiction.

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