This week I got a good look at the actual amount of my student debt. Enough said. I was also informed by my landlady that I was probably going to have to move because my apartment is being condemned and there wouldn’t be a working toilet in the building. She could see my mind racing and said that no, living without a toilet or running water wasn’t an option. Then, this past weekend, I dropped my phone in a lake. As it slowly sank below the surface, I stared at it peacefully. I wasn’t even that surprised and sort of asked if someone else on the dock could jump in and get it. When things are consistently bad you kind of just learn to accept it because even acknowledging it too much feels like a kind of giving in.
A few months ago, after gaining a good amount of weight, ending a serious relationship and effectively losing my longtime job, I jokingly began telling people I didn’t even know how things could get worse. After things kept getting worse, I got quiet. That kind of bravado feels light years away from where I am now, hoping that things can only get better. All the same I don’t quite feel I’ve hit rock bottom. Maybe if I get hit by a car and one of my arms is ripped off, or my apartment gets broken into and all my stuff is stolen, or a number of other possibilities that actually scare me too much to put into words happen. Here’s hoping that rock bottom comes with a parachute, advanced warning and plenty of soft landings, but life hasn’t exactly been like that so far.
What we have here is another playlist to track through life’s struggles, a series of movies where people hit rock bottom and ideally make a recovery of one kind or another. Ordered from most depressing to most hopeful about the future, because up, out and optimistic is the only way to survive. Hopefully you’re not in such a bad place, but more of a temporary funk. In that case, sidle down to the middle of the list and make your way from there.
Nothing could be worse than crippling physical depression except the impending possible end of the world. While much of this film is meandering and evasive, what could be more rock bottom than the pending end of the known universe? Kirsten Dunst manages to convey the stark, impossible nature of depression in a way that only few films touch.
13. Requiem for a Dream
Drug addiction claims the waking lives of a myriad of individuals in New York. One of the most profound and troubling films about depression, drug addiction, loneliness, aging, fear, sadness and loss ever made. The stoniest of all rock bottoms, this movie will wreck you. But also it will make you super glad you don’t have a crippling drug addiction. Unless you do, then it will just wreck you.
12. Kill Bill
One woman’s quest to right a very deep set of wrongs sets off a seemingly endless bloodbath. Uma Thurman plays a woman who finds herself at rock bottom at the beginning of Kill Bill Vol. 1, and must fight her way up and through the problems surrounding her. Revenge is a helluva drug.
A woman finds herself lost in sadness after the death of her husband and daughter, and tries to isolate herself from the world and emotions. One of the most beautiful films ever made, as robust and heady as the first time you fell in love, and as gentle and powerful as a hand pulling you from danger.
10. Fight Club
When one man meets a stranger that turns his consumer life upside down, he loses it all and doesn’t even care that much when he starts attending a violent fight club. The best thing about Fight Club is that is appears to exist outside a framework where money is even that important. Once the narrator stops caring, it feels like we rarely see him eat and never see him pay a bill.
Mixed up with a stranger, a woman begins to believe that the government and a potential bug infestation have something to do with one another. The ultimate paranoid love story finds Ashley Judd losing her mind right along Michael Shannon. Poor, divested of all she ever cared for, and left with only her trust and belief in the presence of bugs in her trailer trash motel room — this movie will actually leave you feeling grateful that things in your life aren’t quite that bad.
8. The Virgin Suicides
I hesitate to include this one because suicide is never the answer to rock bottom. Revel in the soundtrack, appreciate the feel and colors of this Sophia Coppola film, and then go call someone you’ve been meaning to contact but have been putting off for one reason or another, because I’m sure they’d like to hear from you and maybe things are a little difficult for them right now too.
7. Dark Victory
A vapid and angry young socialite finds out she has a terminal disease and is faced with the decision of giving up or going on. Bette Davis absolutely demands the utmost of her audience in this classic. This used to be the only movie that would ever make me cry. The ending scene is a masterpiece, and the latter half of the film is so filled with grace and acceptance that it never fails to surprise.
Filmed mid-decade and held until this year by the studio, Margaret deserves to be seen by an enormous audience. A young girl witnesses a devastating accident that throws her life into confusion when she thinks she may have partially caused the incident. This film is ultimately about the utter lack of power we hold over the universe and the lack of agency we experience in our own lives. Anna Paquin is stunning, and the script and direction by Kenneth Lonergan is magnificent.
A marriage between two alcoholics must change when one of them considers sobriety. Is it enough to simply love another person? Well, usually not, but maybe this time for us! Mary Elizabeth Winstead exemplifies the principles of hitting rock bottom and getting one’s life together against one’s better impulses, and Aaron Paul provides a remarkable foil. Realistic and profoundly affecting, Smashed is a tremendous film, stark and devastating while remaining fascinating and beautiful.
Being a single lady with no real fulfilling work and tons of debt when all your friends are married and pretty and have nice husbands is kind of the worst. Kristen Wiig does her best and still finds life isn’t handing her the finer things. Remarkable because of how true to life the principles are, if not the particulars — Jon Hamm and casual rejection to outright failure and terrible weddings.
3. Out of Africa
In the 1910s, Meryl Streep must deal with a disappointing life far away from her beloved Denmark, including her husband who fails her and a farm life that is far too difficult. While she is downtrodden, she is never defeated, and would that we all had such gorgeous rock bottoms to fall upon as the African plains and such gorgeous companions as Robert Redford to wash our hair for us.
2. Tiny Furniture
Lena Dunham’s feature about a young girl straight out of college, unemployable, unbangable and living with her parents. This modern tale of moderate failure is actually what rock bottom felt like for an entire generation of unsuccessful girls who stupidly agreed to get liberal arts educations. The first time I saw this movie several years ago before the release, I got weird and tried to email Dunham about how much the movie affected me and how modern and efficient it was, intricately mirroring the experiences of nearly everyone I knew. Now I’m like geez, get a grip, but also, still secretly feel this way.
1. Gone with the Wind
The king stay the king! Scarlett O’Hara loses three husbands, a child, her home, and most importantly — the South, but she never loses sight of who she is. A lesser woman would have given up in the face of the Civil War and overwhelming odds, but Scarlett is never anything less than fired up by adversity, especially when she might get something out of it. The very model of independence and ingenuity, Scarlett hits rock bottom over and over, and continues to claw her way to the surface, determined to succeed.
I think the most important thing to remember is that it will pass. I know, scoff, glare, tell me to go to hell — I know. It’s almost impossible to believe while it’s happening to you, one injustice piled upon another, a stupid Jenga stack of bad things and sad feelings, but even rock bottom provides you with a wonderful view of the sky and your own escape route. Take a moment to look around you and consider that you won’t be here again. In the future, things are brighter and you will come through this a stronger person, more wholly yourself in all the best ways.