The Cinema of Discomfort


    Buried somewhere in the collective reactive unconscious of every true cinephile are those films which relay a palpable, entirely personal, though nonetheless real sense of discomfort: films which are difficult to sit through without a crawling and uncomfortable sensation of anxiety culminating in an almost unreasoned inability to watch the film (on repeated viewings) to the end. This feeling emanates from an empathetic connection with a character or characters in a situation of extreme distress that can elicit the most primal responses in a viewer. Films of this ilk tend to have significant qualitative value (otherwise one’s reaction can merely be regarded as resistance to trash) and as such are distantly removed from those films which may elicit similar visceral reactions merely by their unashamed reveling in grotesquery. Choices are, of course, subjective, and subject to the individual’s own critically sympathetic barometer, thus the following three examples may strike readers as  insufficient for such a distinction but nevertheless, despite a candid admiration for the achievement of each, have been found to be resistant, on this site, to candid and thoughtful evaluation. What are your entry films in the Cinema of Discomfort?


1.   “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”  Robert Altman’s harsh and unrelieved examination of sibling rivalry contained in a Skinner Box, with an epic exhibition of sadism and masochism uncomfortably mirroring a very personal enmity between fading divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.


2.   “The Naked Prey”  Cornel Wilde’s African drama is one extended chase- certainly the most sustained in cinema -that intelligently takes the Richard Connell formula from The Most Dangerous Game to it’s logical conclusion; displacing human stature in cruelly torturous ways as Wilde’s safari guide is demoted from Man to wild game who must survive through a surrender to his own instinctive primitivism.


3.   “Straw Dogs”  Sam Peckinpah’s allegorical survival drama is a scathing editorial on the civilization of the feral. It opens with an oppressive atmosphere and relentlessly continues a descent into behavioral Hell with every character reverting to the basest of actions either through forced necessity or by their own degraded nature. Less immediately satisfying than Peckinpah’s other masterwork, “The Wild Bunch”, but more profoundly

About chandlerswainreviews

I've been a puppet, a pirate, a pauper, a poet, a pawn and a king, not necessarily in that order. My first major movie memory was being at the drive-in at about 1 1/2 yrs. old seeing "Sayonara" so I suppose an interest in film was inevitable. (For those scoring at home- good for you- I wasn't driving that evening, so no need to alert authorities.)Writer, critic and confessed spoiler of women, as I have a tendency to forget to put them back in the refrigerator. My apologies.
This entry was posted in 1960's movies, 1970's movies, Film, Film Reviews, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Cinema of Discomfort

  1. tashpix says:

    By a funny coincidence, I was just talking about this with a friend. I’ve seen Dead Ringers exactly once, was barely able to sit through it, and would NEVER attempt it again. And no, you will not see a review of it at “What I Watched Last NIght…” 😉

  2. Cliff Burns says:

    Squirm-inducing cinema, truly a niche market.

    “Straw Dogs” always gave me the creeps–there was something palpably WRONG about that film. It lacked any kind of moral core; there was a certain nobility and code to “The Wild Bunch”, something utterly missing from “Straw Dogs”.

    David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” still elicits shudders when it comes to mind and I’ll never, ever forget the conclusion of George Sluizer’s “The Vanishing” (original Dutch version).

    Despite my admiration for Michael Haneke, I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch “Funny Games” (the original or the American remake). I’m a family man and that one strikes too close to home.

    Gore no longer interests me. Never seen any of the “Saw” series, no interest.

    True horror is cerebral.

    Like Polanski’s “The Tenant”. That one, even after repeated viewings, scares the bejesus out of me to this day…

  3. beetleypete says:

    My own list of such films is published here. (Some of the previews have been disabled by You Tube)
    Good idea Chandler, and seasonally appropriate too.
    Best wishes from England, Pete.

  4. johnrieber says:

    “Straw Dogs” is a brilliant film, but there are several scenes that are almost unwatchable…as you say, they are so uncomfortable and real that you are an accessory to the crime…here is something I posted about “extreme” cinema – including what was for me the most uncomfortable movie experience ever – “A Serbian Film”…

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