Thursday, July 2, 2009

Weekly Top Tens: The Most Memorable Movie Suicides

Let me just say this at the beginning – please no one read anything into this list in terms of my mental state. I’m not suicidal, I just happened to come up with this idea when brainstorming new subjects for my top ten lists last week, and decided to run with it. Anyway, these are the 10 movie suicides that I find most memorable – the ones that stick with me, and haunt my dreams at times. Needless to say, there are spoilers for the movies below, so tread carefully.

10. Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage) in Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
I put this one done at number 10, because there is no real suicide scene in Leaving Las Vegas. In a sense, the entire movie is the suicide scene. Ben Sanderson is miserable in his life. He has no career, no wife, nothing keeping him going except for alcohol. So he decides to go to Las Vegas and drink himself to death. To Ben, it’s not just important to die, which he wants to do, he also needs to punish himself, so he picks one of the slowest, most painful ways to die imaginable. Nicolas Cage is great in the entire movie, but in the closing scenes, as he approaches death, he breaks your heart.

9. Blake (Michael Pitt) in Last Days (2005)
When Gus Van Sant’s Last Days opens, Blake, a rock star based on Kurt Cobain, is pretty much already dead. He spends his days wandering around is dilapidated mansion, not really interacting with anyone, surrounded by hangers on who do not care, and stoned out of his mind on drugs. The movie does precisely what the title implies – follows Blake in those last few days of his life before he actually kills himself. It is a haunting movie, and Michael Pitt delivers a great performance. The suicide itself is not really seen, but we do see Blake’s lifeless body on the floor of his shack, and then his spirit leaving his body and climbing a ladder upwards, apparently to heaven. It’s an odd, but haunting, moment in a film that up until that point seemed to be committed totally to reality.

8. Mouchette (Nadine Nortier) in Mouchette (1967)
Mouchette is a little girl (probably around 12) whose life is one tragedy after another. Her father is an alcoholic who is cruel to her, her mother is sick and bedridden, and Mouchette has to do all the housework and look after her infant brother. She is mocked mercilessly at school for wearing tattered clothing. One night, she is caught in a rainstorm, and found by an epileptic drunk, who has just killed a man, and wants Mouchette to be his alibi. When she tries to escape, he catches her and rapes her. When she finally gets away, and goes home, she finds her mother has died. She is called a slut by the store clerk, who notices the scratch marks from the rape. Finally, Mouchette decides to end it all, and rolls herself down a hill into a river where she drowns. Out of all the movie suicides on this list, Mouchette’s makes the most sense. After all she has been through, death must have seen like a sweet relief.

7. Father Karras (Jason Miller) in The Exorcist (1973)
The only “sacrificial” suicide on this list, because it is far and away the most disturbing and memorable. When the more experience Priest dies trying to get Satan out of poor little Regan, Father Karras takes over, and challenges the demon to leave the little girl, and enter his body. The demon does, and Karras immediately throws himself out the bedroom window, crashing on the stairs below, where the tumbles down and dies at the bottom. The suicide in the film is one of the most shocking moments in a film full of them. Jason Miller plays the scene perfectly. His face is truly haunting.

6. Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore) in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Without a doubt, the saddest suicide on this list. Poor Brooks has been an inmate at Shawshank prison for nearly 50 years. He has got used to the routine, used to running his library, and his friends, and his bird Jake. When he gets released, he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He tries working the job the assign to him, but packing groceries hurts his hands. The world has become full of cars and moves much faster than he is used to. He thinks about committing a crime to get sent back to jail, but he’s too old to do that now. Finally, feeling he has no other alternative, Brooks climbs up on a chair in his lonely room, and hangs himself. No matter how many times I see the film, this scene still gets to me.

5. Nick (Christopher Walken) in The Deer Hunter (1978)
When the movie opens, Nick seems like a good, well adjusted young man. He asks his girlfriend to marry him, and he plans to go through with it when he returns from Vietnam. But once he and his friends get over there, and are taken prisoner and forced to play Russian roulette by the guards, something in Nick just snaps. He had made Michael (Robert DeNiro) promise he would never leave him over there, and when Michael, who has gotten out and gone home, finds out that Nick is gone AWOL, he goes back for him. His finds that his friend is pretty much entirely gone, now playing Russian roulette for money. The only way Michael can get through to him is to agree to a game between the two of them. As the gun clicks on one empty chamber after another, we get a feeling of dread in the pit of our stomachs. We know what is going to happen, and so does Nick. But he pulls the trigger anyway.

4. Billy Bibbitt (Brad Dourif) in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Poor Billy Bibbitt is only in the mental hospital in the first place because his overbearing mother has stripped of what little self esteem he ever had, and turned him into a stuttering, insecure mess of a human being. When R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) enters the ward, he effects all the patients, but Billy perhaps most of all, getting him to come out of his shell a little bit and feel better about himself. When the final party comes, and Billy loses his virginity to one of McMurphy’s girls, for the first time in the movie, Billy seems actually happy. He stops stuttering and actually stands up to Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who treats him the same way his mother did. But all Ratched has to do is mention Billy’s mother again, and he turns into a stuttering mess. The next time we see him, he’s bleeding to death after slashing his wrists. A tragic ending to a kid that we had grown to love.

3. Randy the Ram Robinson (Mickey Rourke) in The Wrestler (2008)
In the 1980s, Randy the Ram was the biggest name in professional wrestling. He filled stadiums with screaming fans, made millions of dollars, and had women begging to be with him. Now, 20 years later, he has lost pretty much everything, but is holding onto his dream. He wants to get back to the big time. But years of doing steroids, and living hard, have taken their toll on Randy, who has a heart attack, and is told never to wrestle again. He tries doing that for a while – tries to reconnect with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and start a real relationship with a stripper (Marisa Tomei), but finally he realizes he cannot take it anymore. He needs to roar of the crowd to keep him going, and if he doesn’t have it, he’d rather die. His “suicide” is nothing more than a wrestling match, that strains his heart too much. Although we do not see him die, we know the match is taking its toll on him, and he knows it as well. When he climbs the ropes one final time to deliver his patented Ram Jam move, he knows when he lands he’ll be dead. And he doesn’t care.

2. Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts) in Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Diane Selwyn left her small Ontario hometown in the hopes of making it big in Hollywood. When her lover (Laura Elena Harring) leaves her though, Diane invents her own fantasy world, where she is the sweet and innocent Betty, and Harring is Rita, a woman with amnesia who needs her to help put together a mystery. But when the fantasy world comes crashing down around her, Diane cannot take it. Seeing people coming to get her, she pulls out a shoots herself. David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. is one of the best films this decade, and this is only one interpretation of events, but it’s the one I prefer. Watts’s performance is amazing, and the final scene is haunting.

1. Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) in Full Metal Jacket (1987)
It’s almost a shame that Private Pyle’s suicide ends the first half of Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam movie. It ends that section with such a bang, that everything that comes after it seems a little hollow by comparison. The first half of Kubrick’s film ranks among the best work of his career. The second half, not so much. But Private Pyle remains one of his most fascinating characters. Out of shape, he is tormented by his fellow recruits and draftees, not to mention the drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey, a former real life drill instructor). The army slowly breaks down down Pyle, turning him into a unthinking, unfeeling killing machine. As she sits in the bathroom, he has completely snapped, and he turns the gun on the drill instructor, before he turns it on himself. The gunshot that blows Pyle’s brains out may in fact be the loudest gunshot in cinema history. It is one of the most memorable, and disturbing, moments I have ever seen in a film.

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