Category Archives: Heartbreak

Movies have attended to the wounds of the heartsick since the medium’s very beginnings, and they’ve tended to wallow in the experience rather than seek a rescue from it. Wallowing can be good.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

This Chinese-box mystery is actually a romantic comedy—albeit one that’s been Rubik’s Cubed and set adrift in an unmoored consciousness by Charlie Kaufman’s beautiful screenplay. Jim Carrey stars as a shy nebbish in love with Kate Winslet’s bipolar tramp; once dumped, he seeks out a small firm that will literally wipe his memories of her right out of his brain. Of course, it’s not that easy, and neither is the film, since much of it takes place in a beleaguered subconscious that’s being technologically erased as we watch. In the end, though, the lovelorn mood trumps the gimmickry.

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The End of the Affair (1999)

The End of the Affair (1999 film)
The End of the Affair (1999 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adapted from the Graham Greene novel and filmed by Neil Jordan with all the intelligence that work requires, this is all about wartime love (between married woman Julianne Moore and family friend Ralph Fiennes) as a defiance of—and, finally, a bloody deal made with—a hard-bargaining God. One of the best British films of the 1990s, and predictably underappreciated.

Chungking Express (1994)

Wong Kar-Wai is world famous for his fractured, lovelorn fairy tales, which buzz around Hong Kong and trail after young, lonely obsessives who are strung out on unsuccessful coping strategies and searching for love in every wrong corner. This popular mini-masterpiece is actually divided into two equally significant stories, in which two city cops struggle with heartbreak and magical thinking. Similar, and also recommended, are Wong’s Fallen Angels (1995), a more complex interwoven narrative, also full of post-noir fatalism and urban melancholy, and Happy Together (1997), a doomed gay romance playing itself out in the hothouse of a Buenos Aires flop-joint. Subtitled.

Brief Encounter (1945)

Cover of "Essential Art House: Brief Enco...
Cover of Essential Art House: Brief Encounter

Scored to Rachmaninoff, this world-famous Noël Coward–David Lean tragedy-in-a-teapot recounts, simply, the doomed romance between a conventional British housewife (Celia Johnson) and a conventional British doctor (Trevor Howard), each of whom is married to someone else. Nothing dramatic happens between them, and that’s the picture’s deliberate strategy—it summons the pathos of what doesn’t occur, as opposed to what disastrously might’ve been.

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

The well-read Richard Llewellyn novel by way of director John Ford, this portrait of Welsh coal-mining country gets you right here. Packed with Ford’s Celtic stock company of actors, including Maureen O’Hara, plus Walter Pidgeon as a schoolteacher, Oscar winner Donald Crisp as Dad, and Roddy McDowall as the family’s youngest son.