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 unsettling.