As humankind battles one of its darkest times, films appear to have become a source of catharsis. While social lives have taken a backseat and long work hours keep us glued to the screens, what are the ways in which we can entertain ourselves?
We asked our readers to share their best-loved movies, which remind them of love and empathy. Here are 11.
1. Marriage story (2019)
The one film I hold close to my heart when I need to remind myself to be kind is Marriage Story. I watched it in 2019 and carried it through the two years of fear, uncertainty, loss, anger and dejection that followed.
I already admired director Noah Baumbach for abruptly launching a film with a complex relationship dynamic, and then carefully and masterfully sculpting a story out of it.
Nicole and Charlie Barber’s (deftly played by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver) relationship was redolent of love and compassion even during their nastiest fights and ugliest divorce negotiations. It illustrated how, especially during difficult days like the pandemic, it is important to understand and care for people, even if they have stopped serving a purpose in your life and just because you know how to care for each other.
In the final scene, where there is clearly no hope for the relationship beyond its utilitarian elements, Nicole stopped Charlie in the middle of the road to tie his shoe-laces that had come undone. It was done with no drama and without any want for recognition — evincing that kindness can be easy, even when things are hard.
- Preetha Banerjee (science journalist, New Delhi)
2. The Lives of Others (2006)
The great critic, Roger Ebert once described films as ‘basically empathy generating machines’ – something I agree with wholeheartedly. This is probably the reason why, at times, in the darkest of days and the most of trying of times, I tend to go back to one of my favourite films – ‘The Lives of Others’.
Set in Nazi Germany, this film is about a German Stasi secret service agent, who while spying on the state’s ‘enemies’, becomes sympathetic to their cause. The reason this film appeals so much to me is that it underlines how even the coldest of hearts can transform with the power of love and empathy; all one needs to do is listen to the other person, to really hear them out. And for whatever reason, we don’t do enough of that these days.
- Kunal Mitra (film-maker, Mumbai)
3. Midnight in Paris (2011)
During the pandemic, amidst all the wonderfully varied content I have consumed, I somehow found myself going back to the movie, Midnight in Paris. Perhaps that is anchored in my love for the city and the sudden change in reality that had me return to India from Paris, where I was pursuing my postgraduate studies.
On one of those sleepless nights we have all had, I found myself deep in nostalgia and rewatched the movie after many years. It felt like returning home. I had visited Paris as a tourist before staying there and have always been completely enamoured by the love language that is spoken by its every lane and bylane.
That very abstract was beautifully captured in the movie and through its various aspects, portrayed love. Be it love in its most carnal form or love for perception or just love for art. The movie, through its protagonist's quite literal travelling in time, catches you by the collar and makes you suspend reality. And that is what we were all perhaps wanting to do in times of suffering.
The happy ending of the movie is as much about love as it is about understanding, which eventually does translate to empathy, because, in my opinion, the true essence of empathy emanates from understanding. Finally, the protagonist encounters someone who empathizes with how he perceives the world to be, understands and flourishes in his reality.
As the two characters walk into the Parisien rain and the screen fades to black, the film leaves with the motion that eventually nostalgia is denial and in a quite magical way strikes that balance between necessary escapism and acceptance that the beauty of yesteryear is a perception enhanced only by its idea. And in times as difficult, it served as a fitting reminder that while losing oneself from the harsh reality is fine, living in today is not as bad. Of course, the challenges may sometimes seem overwhelming but there will be an answer.
- Arinjay Ghosh (communications professional, New Delhi)
4. Fathers And Daughters (2015)
There's a movie called 'Fathers And Daughters', starring Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried. Not many have watched it. I had landed upon it out of the blue a couple of years after I lost my father. Naturally, I was drawn to the name and it had a great cast. As opposed to being a go-to, it is one of those movies that I could never watch again but also one that I will never forget. Not because it's the greatest film of all time, it's probably not. Not because I related to each and everything it showed, I didn't. But it's the feeling some movies leave you with, a strange connection that makes you think "I've been there too".
'Fathers And Daughters' reminded me of my loss. At the same time, it showed me that regardless of your pain and suffering, life goes on and it must. It made me believe in hope and love. it made me feel grateful for all the good memories I have of him. It helped me move on while still remembering the greatest man in my life.
- Sharmita Kar (journalist, New Delhi)
5. Me, Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
For me, the movie about love, loss, grief and acceptance would be the 2015 indie film, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. What makes this movie endearing to me is the fact that it establishes this idea of hope that the dying girl might actually make it through. The movie revolves around three friends, one who is dying and how they dedicate themselves to keeping her spirits high, so she can gather the strength to survive.
(Spoiler alert – she doesn’t).
The movie also deals with the idea that you cannot control when and how death will come. All we can do is cherish the time we have left, all we can do is hope, and grief when all else fails.
-Ananyak Saha (market risk analyst, New Delhi) 6. Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
6. Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
It has not been easy dealing with all the multitude of challenges the pandemic has led to, some pushing me to the darkest and coldest corners within my own self. In such moments, however, I have always found myself going back to one particular watch, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Apart from me relating to the introverted nature of the protagonist, the way the friendships have been portrayed is something I truly admire.
The love shared between friends, siblings, and partners alongside the empathy towards not only the ones you hold close but also the ones you have left behind, for me gives a holistic approach towards life especially during the not-so-good days. It shows how true connections aren’t meant to exhaust but only rejuvenate you ever so subtly but significantly. I know I will always find myself replaying this particular movie, in the brightest and grimmest of days.
- Devangshu Mandal (financial advisor, Kolkata)
7. Main Hoon Na (2004)
I am sometimes still embarrassed about saying this out loud, but a movie I'll never tire of re-watching is Main Hoon Na. It's a ridiculous movie, stupidly funny, but it's got great music, a big heart (parts of it still make me teary-eyed), and you know everything will be alright in the end. Plus, the extreme unrealism makes for excellent escapism. I wouldn't say the movie fills me with hope, not in a philosophic sense, especially since I don't agree with a lot of the film's implicit messaging, but it is an instant mood-lifter, and that, I feel, is just as important.
- Suvankshriti Singh (freelance writer, Ambala)
8. Piku (2015)
My comfort movie throughout the pandemic has been Soojit Sircar’s Piku – a sunny watch that comforts the heart. The one thing we all have re-learnt during these dark times is the value of family, that our parents are not getting any younger and all we need is each other’s strength. The father-daughter duo truly portrayed the quirks of modern family relationships, quintessentially the Bengalis. From serving Begun Bhaja to the guests to the homoeopathy medicine names, everything about Piku hits home. Unapologetic, go-getter Piku shows how women are not one-dimensional and can do it all. It always empowers me to take charge of my life, do what one’s heart pleases and that our parents need us and have done more than one can ever comprehend.
- Shrina Dutta (PR executive, Bangalore)
9. Fallen Angels (1995)
Wong Kar-Wai's 1995 neon-lit fever dream “Fallen Angels” does not centre around anything in particular, but at the same time, is the melting pot of a number of bizarre stories – a hitman and his female associate, a man who cannot speak after having a can of outdated pineapple slices, and a woman who scampers around town in a blonde wig. When these freeze frames, fast frames come together in a montage of black-and-white screens and peculiar lighting on neo-noirish Hong Kong streets that scream eccentricity, we ask ourselves – do these stories matter?
Of course, they do. Life and love were redefined during the pandemic, and in many ways, these past few years are reminiscent of the footage from “Fallen Angels” – a shaky camera that captures blurry lines and ephemeral moments without any sense of time, whatsoever. To me, life now is how Roger Ebert saw most of Kar-wai's work – a camera that runs along at a frenetic pace occasionally pauses when exhausted, and just stares.
- Joydeep Bose (journalist, New Delhi)
10. Piku (2015)
Out of the many movies that I watch, Bollywood films seep deep within me, at all times and one of my go-to films while seeking joy, sadness, hope and doom as they all culminate life into one capsule is, and will always be - Piku. The endearing tale of a father and daughter touching such unencumbered plight and pinnacle of love is truly soul-stirring. It pretty much sums up my perception of how love truly can conquer all, make you wade past all life's trials. As they say - it's all about loving your family, during the good times, especially during the bad times. Piku put a smile on my face with its unadulterated representation of love. The love-hate relationship between a father and daughter, the constant bickering and the innocent laughs - every emotion of that film is so relatable and it truly addresses all the highs and lows in the sweetest way. A movie like that today is truly rare and hence celebrated as it truly touched me with its innocent tale of love.
- Tanisha Bhattacharya (content strategist, Bangalore)
11. Titanic (1997)
My go-to movie in the dullest of times is the good old Titanic. There are a lot of wonderful films on love, but Titanic stands out for me because it depicts love and empathy between two individuals who come from extremely different backgrounds. Rose, a rich upper-class indoor woman who possesses all the material comforts of life experiences freedom for the first time in the company of Jack. A poor boyish man, who lives life on the edge, is clueless about how his next day is going to be. Rose is inspired and also envious of Jack's freedom. It is this freedom that gives her the courage to break free from the shackles of her authoritative fiance she never loved.
On the other hand, even though a stranger to Rose, Jack quickly understands the storm of anger and despair burning in Rose's heart as she attempts suicide from the railings of the deck. Until now, no one had ever tried to understand her the way he did. This immediate show of empathy builds the foundation of their love which only blossoms as the film progresses.
The darkest moment in the film, when the Titanic is sinking, the way the duo sticks together braving the conspiracies of Cal (Rose's fiance), is a testimony to the power of love and the victories its capable of achieving. The movie repeatedly reminds me that no matter how dull the day is, there is always someone out there who can decipher your emotions. Sometimes, they may not be your parents or closest friends, but just a passerby, fellow traveller or even a colleague you never paid heed to before.
Love and empathy can be found in the most unexpected people and places, and this is what Titanic never fails to remind me.
- Kritika Sharad (journalist, Mumbai)
While there is never a 'right thing' to watch, one should always have a way forward; to at least know where to find a rest stop when feeling too overwhelmed.