Nihilistic Cinema

by Jason K.

Created 03/25/13

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Nihilism - no meaning or purpose to life. No morals. Awesome Cinema. I wanted this list to include films with little to no happiness or bright spots. Every character is either immoral or is at least in the shadows. A good example would be Detour (1945) or pretty much any other noir for that matter. Please recommend any films that may apply that I've skipped over.

  • One of the most complex characters in cinema, Johnny definitely has some good in him, but he rattles on about his apocalyptic philosophy in this masterpiece, and Jeremy is one of the most vile characters in film.

  • Early on, the man sets his date. If this was an average film, by the end (SPOILER) he'd find a new lease on life. Instead it ends in a dreary fashion, accompanied by one of the most depressing pieces of music ever - gymnopedie no 1 - Satie.

  • I've actually never seen this film, but I've heard enough about it to safely say it belongs here. Plus a great romantic score that seems like it has no place here!

  • We feel sorry for this poor woman, until she gives us a reason not to. Every character is a slimeball, inducing pain onto each other.

  • Our "hero" is fine with using a woman to get the only thing he wants - to get his revenge. Yes, they deserve it, but his actions are still not commendable.

  • It is Dassin's sheer talent that keeps the viewer on Fabien's side. He is an utter jerk to his girlfriend and the only thing he really cares about is making money in wrestling.

  • What a wonderful honeymoon!

  • One of my favorite endings of all time! Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange is also pretty nihilistic, but it's not Criterion of course.

  • This is straying away a bit from my own criteria, you do feel bad for her, but the film is just so bleak...

  • Another great Japanese revenge film. An early harakiri scene is very brutal. Again, he has good reason to be mad, but it gets rather bloody.

  • Kind of a jerk to his mother, beautiful score though.

  • Rape and murder, what a sunny combination. Knew I had to put a Bergman on here.

  • The best Renoir, imo. One of the best films period.

  • I understand he wants a good story...

  • Don't open the box...

  • Isn't young love beautiful?

  • One of the most unique movies ever with some of the best use of colors I can think of. Plus a memorable face-painting scene

  • Maybe not completely nihilistic, but one character in there I hate more than most, and another great bleak ending.

  • A film that takes off quickly and never slows down.

  • Wow.

  • The scene where Corinne is raped and Roland shows that he absolutely doesn't care. And then the film itself shows its indifference when the camera pans away.
    Tons of other fantastic scenes, one where the light someone on fire, obviously the legendary car wreck...

  • What people will do for money.

  • A great recommendation, definitely qualifies, thankfully I've got Hulu plus. Saw some A Clockwork Orange and some Weekend in there. Though, Jarman is no Godard or Kubrick, unfortunately. Loved it when SPOILER they dump the body and she says "I really thought he was the one."

  • An embarrassing omission to my original list. A very good suggestion! Belmondo is the essence of nihilism in Godard's masterpiece. He is at his best as the wannabe gangster.

  • This jumpy, confusing tale of a contract killer has some beautiful imagery, and a heavy nihilistic mood, especially from Anna Mari's character who's obsessed with death. (Anna Mari had been considering suicide herself when she was hired)


  • By Ida
    May 06, 2013
    12:36 PM

    Zivojin Pavlovic and his "When I Am Dead and Gone" (1967).
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  • By tyleraustin
    May 07, 2013
    04:43 PM

    that's funny you say gymnopedie no 1 is depressing. i think you're wrong.
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    • By Jason K.
      May 11, 2013
      11:44 AM

      Well maybe I'm a little musically off, I've always thought Chopin's Funeral March wasn't all that depressing but actually a little uplifting....are you from Texas by any chance?
  • By mdeapo
    May 10, 2013
    03:40 PM

    Why haven't you seen Salo yet?
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    • By Jason K.
      May 11, 2013
      11:48 AM

      idk watching people eating feces sounds...unpleasant. Also I didn't really like the only Pasolini film I've seen Teorema that much. But I will definitely watch it eventually.
    • By Barry Moore
      June 05, 2014
      07:14 PM

      A friend of mine argues that 'Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma' should not be seen as nihilistic, but rather underscores the necessity of resistance to tyranny and oppression. Be that as it may, the film is overpowering in its bleak depiction of human cruelty at its most depraved, and is not a viewing experience to be undertaken lightly. Morally troubling and also unforgettable, this dark masterpiece remains among the most important and essential films ever made.
  • By Brock Pace
    May 11, 2013
    02:52 AM

    You should put Jubilee on the list. It's very similar to A Clockwork Orange, and is another dystopian future movie without morals.
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    • By Eric Edelin
      May 13, 2013
      06:24 PM

      Definitely, "Jubilee"
  • By Chet E.
    May 12, 2013
    09:38 AM

    Great list - be ready to follow each of these with a comedy. I would add THE FRIEND'S OF EDDIE COYLE to this grim line up.
  • By Robotocles
    May 14, 2013
    07:34 PM

  • By Brock Pace
    May 20, 2013
    09:48 AM

    Is "Virgin Spring" really nihilistic? The whole purpose of the story was to emphasize redemption. In the end when (spoiler) the water spurts out of the hole behind her head, that was supposed to symbolize baptism or a cleansing of his sins. If anything I'd say that's quite the opposite of having no purpose. But thanks again for a great list and including my recommendation in there. I actually haven't seen "Jubilee" yet, despite the fact that it sits in my collection. I only watched the trailer and read the synopsis and thought that it seemed nihilistic and reminded me of "A Clockwork Orange".
  • By Anthony Stevens
    May 22, 2013
    02:23 PM

    Amoral or immoral characters tend to be the most interesting. You may want to include Sword of Doom in this as well. Great samurai flick and not just because Toshiro Mifune happens to show in it around the middle.
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    • By David M.
      May 26, 2013
      12:33 AM

      Yes, Sword of Doom would be a perfect addition to this list.
  • By Chris Boehm
    June 05, 2013
    02:16 PM

    I'm not crazy about it, but you may want to add "The Night Porter" as well.
    July 09, 2013
    03:14 PM

    Great list Amanda!
  • By Kris Carrillo
    July 22, 2013
    02:31 AM

    Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was very nihilistic.
  • By TeeWhy Li
    August 26, 2013
    11:54 PM

    Decent list...You shouldn't of excluded breathless though, the very basis of that movie is the critique of nihilism in french modern society.
  • By Adam Piercy
    October 01, 2013
    02:58 PM

    I found Dazed and Confused to be a rather bleak film.
  • By D Blue
    October 28, 2013
    12:36 PM

    The Man Who Wasn't There!
  • By Andrew_Boone
    November 14, 2013
    01:22 AM

    "Europa" by Von Trier.
  • By Peter_Wilson
    January 05, 2014
    08:34 PM

    Wow, great list! -- -- Check out some of mine if you find the time.
  • By Peter_Wilson
    January 11, 2014
    10:16 AM

    Jason K. I've got a list Your Favorite Criterion Edition, which is a compilation of members favorite criterion edition. Feel free to participate.
  • By Yasir Aly
    January 22, 2014
    03:27 AM

    Great list. But you have excluded "Irreversible". Though it is in fact criticism of nihilism but boy, is that movie bleak. Also, i believe french classic like "going places" should have been here. "Two lane black top" is missing from here. Also, There's this movie "mother and the whore" by jean eustach, its a criticism of nihilism but exceptional in exploratory themes of depths of the school of thought as a whole.
  • By Peter_Wilson
    February 10, 2014
    10:31 PM

    Kurosawa's "Dodes'ka-den" and "The Lower Depths" are a couple of nice ones. The ending of the later is nihilism to the core.
  • By Barry Moore
    June 05, 2014
    07:07 PM

    I would like to suggest Robert Bresson's bleak 1977 drama 'Le diable probablement' and Dennis Hopper's scathing 1980 masterpiece 'Out of the Blue' as additions to this category. Both of these major films offer very little if any hope for finding meaning and purpose in the human experience.

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