The Most Uncomfortable Movie Scenes of All Time
Every week we attempt to answer a new pop culture related question. This week’s edition of /Answers takes on the question: Which movie scene made you the most uncomfortable? As always we have the most of the /Film writing and podcast team providing answers, but beginning this week, we will be introducing a new person to the mix.
The idea is to have a different writer, director or actor join our weekly question game. This week we have 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg providing his answer to the question. Find out the most uncomfortable movie scenes, after the jump.
Please Note: The entries below are presented in alphabetical order. If you haven’t seen one of these movies, beware that the entry for said film likely gives massive plot spoilers. You have been warned.
Jacob Hall: Force Majeure
I’ve seen things projected on screen that have burned my psyche like an acid bath. Hideous acts of violence committed by all manner of man and beast. Sex acts as envisioned by Lars Von Trier. Profound revelations about the nature of the human animal that have left me shaken to my core. And yet, when I think back on movies that have made me uncomfortable, movies that have made my skin crawl, movies that have forced me to avert my eyes because looking at the screen felt nothing short of unbearable, I think of Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure.
Described accurately as Curb Your Enthusiasm reinterpreted by Michael Haneke, the film begins with a quietly life-altering incident: a massive avalanche roars toward a ski resort and stops short, not harming a single soul. But at the sight of what looked like impending doom, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) fled the scene, leaving his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their young children to face it alone. And then Tomas and Ebba don’t talk about it. And then they continue to not talk about it. And not talk about it some more. And then they start to talk about it.
And when the dam breaks, it really breaks. Tomas fights for his dignity, attempting to salvage his masculinity in the face of hard evidence that he’s a coward. Ebba must face the fact that the man she’s chosen to spend her life with left her and the rest of the family to “die.” As their marriage fractures, as Tomas and Ebba continue to break down, as their vacation transforms into a hellish purgatory, the excuses grow more desperate and the accusations start to fly, and everyone has a real bad time.
I do not know what it’s like to have my flesh torn off by a zombie, but I do know exactly what it’s like to be in a room with a couple who are looking for an excuse to unload on one another. Hell, I know what it’s like to be one-half of that couple. That makes the blackly comedic horror of Force Majeure feel more real and more painful and more awkward than just about anything I have ever seen in another movie. It’s The Office with that secret core replaced with bitter black tar. It’s Seinfeld made with less mercy and an icy European aesthetic. It’s the most I have ever cringed in a movie theater. And it’s brilliant.
Angie Han: Goodnight Mommy
There are very few times in my life that I’ve ever felt tempted to walk out of a movie, and when I do, it’s usually because I’m bored. Only once, during Goodnight Mommy, do I remember wanting to leave because I was so viscerally uncomfortable that I wasn’t sure I could stand it anymore. I squirmed. I grimaced. I covered my eyes. I uncovered my eyes to stare longingly at the exit sign. I contemplated standing to leave, and then worried it’d be rude to fight my way out of the middle of the row during the big climax. I couldn’t make up my mind, so I wondered if I should just close my eyes and cover my ears. In the end, curiosity got the better of me, and I watched through to the end. Then I went home and wrote all about it for /Film.
Goodnight Mommy builds slowly but deliberately, making it hard to tell where, exactly, the movie is headed. Then we get to that third act, and a tense watch becomes downright excruciating as the little boys (real-life twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz) tie their mother (Susanne Wuest) to her bed and proceed to torment her. It’s not that the horror in Goodnight Mommy is unusually gory or graphic. But directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz know how to make the most out of every sigh, scream, or drop of blood. They favor long takes which force audiences to keep watching even when we’re desperate to look away. Naturalistic performances by their stars sell the characters’ emotional reactions all too well. It’s a real testament to the cast and crew’s talents that I hated every second of that climactic scene.
And it’s an even greater testament to their abilities that I walked out glad I’d seen the movie. Incredibly, the filmmakers deliver a payoff that’s worth the pain, and elevate it to something more interesting than simple torture porn. I would never watch Goodnight Mommy again — it’s too excruciating. But I can’t wait to see what to see what these filmmakers do next. Probably so I can freak the hell out and consider walking out of that movie, too.
Blake Harris: The Graduate
Oh, this is a great question because, at least to some degree, you’re really asking what type of discomfort makes you most uncomfortable. Is it gore? Gratuitous sex? Finding out that the call is coming from inside the home? For me, the most uncomfortable scenes are those that unsettle the narrative. Especially those that crinkle with ambiguity, where a rabbit-or-duck moment (usually the ending) will continue to creep through my mind long after finishing the film.
The first film that ever made me feel this way, and still to this day causes me the most discomfort, is The Graduate. The ending just pierces, going from the holy crap high of those young lovers fleeing the church — freedom, finally, and happily ever after! — to suddenly sitting in the back of the bus, oscillating between ecstasy, agony, and confusion.
Watching that oscillation of emotions is uncomfortable, but it’s the revelation I always have afterward that gets me: what the hell was I even rooting for? What did I think was going to happen? That, of course, that. Which means that somewhere along the way I lost any semblance of objectivity and started to live and die through the feelings of Dustin Hoffman‘s character. This is a good thing in many ways — the power of film! the power of storytelling! — except that in this case I’m left with an empty, upending feeling as I wonder about the fate of this poor girl and that aimless motherfucker.
Ethan Anderton: Jackass: The Movie
First of all, I’m sure some readers out there will get a kick out of seeing “Ethan Anderton: Jackass” written in big letters. I know I had a good laugh to myself when I typed it. Are we good? Okay.
Initially, the most uncomfortable scenes that I thought of were mostly on television, courtesy of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company boss Michael Scott on The Office. Whether it was the episode where Michael Scott couldn’t deliver on paying for a high school graduating class’ college tuition or when he proposed to his girlfriend during Kelly’s family’s Diwali celebration. I also thought about Anton Yelchin’s mangled arm in Green Room, the eyeball slicing in Un Chien Andalou, the curb stomping in American History X. But then it hit me, the time that I couldn’t stop squirming from a really stupid movie, and just thinking about the scene made my skin crawl and my face scowl.
There are countless insane stunts and injuries in Jackass: The Movie, but by far one of the most cringeworthy was one of the most simple. One of their activities is giving Johnny Knoxville paper cuts between the webbing of his fingers and toes. The anticipation before they slice the paper through their skin is almost worse than the actual action itself. Plus, let’s not forget the fact that they’re not using regular office paper but the flap of a manila envelope, which is infinitely worse. It’s so bad that one of their camera men can’t help but throw up and pass out for a moment.
The icing on the cake comes when they decide to do a papercut on Steve-O between his lips. All of these slices are so bad that I can’t help but shift in my seat and shake my body in discomfort. It’s just awful, and I’ve never been so uneasy while watching any other movie scene.
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