My cousin Rob recently answered, via post, a question I had posited in one of my own posts. He has an interesting solution to the question, in the same way that James Tiberius Kirk, renegade threat and terrorist to the Klingon Empire, solved the Kobayashi Maru test. Give it a read.
Anyway, instead of creating my own Top 5 List for movies I’m going to take the lead here and post The 6 Best Movies for Catharsis. Why 6? Because it’s my blog and I wanted to do it that way.
What is Catharsis?
It’s the purification and purgation of emotions, originally put forth by Aristotle. It is a sort of restoration process when done right. That Aristotle was a pretty smart cat. Hopefully his statues will remain standing.
Theater types love the idea of catharsis, because it’s a goal of theater to lead the audience to that state. Since film is an evolution of theater, there are plenty of filmmakers who see catharsis as a goal. It can also be a goal just to entertain, like a lesser Michael Bay movie or a Three Stooges short.
A great comedy could elevate your spirit and maybe soften your heart toward the world. Since movies are essentially an evolution of theater, a comedy like Planes, Trains and Automobiles would do exactly that.
A great drama could prove cathartic by putting you in touch with a pain and working through it. I may never be the head of a crime family as prestigious and influential as the Corleone’s, but I can still achieve catharsis through its exploration of complex family dynamics.
So, here are my 6 Best movies for catharsis, in no particular order. You’ll notice the term “crying” appears more than once. That typically goes hand-in-hand with the purgation of emotion, but it’s not a requirement.
The 6 Best Movies for Catharsis
The quintessential film about just wanting a chance. The outcome isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that you went out there and gave it everything you had. History may record the winners, but it’s built by the people who gave it everything no matter the odds.
If you don’t cry at the end of Rocky, I don’t know if there’s anything I can do for you.
Recently I responded to someone on Twitter about a favorite memory tied to this film. As I watched it on cable after its theatrical run, with a friend in the room, it got very quiet during the ending. We laughed at each other as we both looked over and saw that we’d been ugly crying.
As someone who’s struggled with my sense of self worth at various points, and the illusion of control in life, The Game is a quiet work from David Fincher that a lot of people overlook. It’s not as flashy as Fight Club, nor is it as easily accessible as Gone Girl. But for me, it’s a keystone cathartic film.
You can hear my complete thoughts on it on House of Fincher, including another story in this film which I think is surprisingly similar to it.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The aforementioned comedy masterpiece that I watch once a year. I still laugh at the jokes, and I still cry at the end. I still remember watching this with my parents, especially my dad, whose hysterical laughter was one of the greatest sounds the world has ever known. This film is classic John Hughes, and I’d argue it’s his greatest work.
Really, any adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is supremely cathartic. It’s a redemption tale that reminds us be open to showing compassion, and the film adaptations often take great pain to show the good people who never give up on Scrooge despite his misanthropy.
This version in particular, a musical starring Albert Finney, was also a favorite of my father’s. When Scrooge awakens at the end of his soul’s long journey through the night, he performs a magnificent song, “Begin Again,” with an undeniable energy that should melt even the iciest heart.
It’s a Wonderful Life
It can be “hip” to dislike this film. It got you credit for some time to turn up your nose at it. But like Rocky, it shows that every little moment has a lifetime leading to it. Has the ending been spoiled for you? Possibly. But the ending is a culmination of emotion that the audience has earned.
A Quick Note
I didn’t put Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, nor its brilliant companion arc from The Clone Wars series called The Siege of Mandalore because they are very specific and I’m not sure how accessible they are to non-Star Wars fans.
But if I want a purgation of emotions then those two, Episodes I & II, the original trilogy, and Solo: A Star Wars Story are basically my immediate therapy session.
I said that these were the 6 Best Movies for Catharsis, but they’re far from the only ones.
What are yours?