As much as movie-goers love an old-fashioned romantic comedy with a happy ending, movie couples with a deteriorating relationship or unconventional means of professing love always fancy a handful of audiences.
Be it exceptionally-attractive romantic pairings or ignoring red flags with passionate demonstrations of love, dysfunctional movie couples highlight human beings’ innate flaws. Films like this stand opposed to movies with an optimistic outlook on the affair of love: many destructive relationships portrayed on-screen give audiences an adrenaline rush while proving love does not always win.
‘Natural Born Killers’ (1994)
Having the same relationship goals can lead to a stronger relationship: Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) indeed share the same goals — committing as much violence as humanly possible.
After a meet-cute moment played out like an ’80s family sitcom, Natural Born Killers (1994) follows the Knox couple as they go on a killing spree. Their serial murders eventually catch the eye of an equally dangerous detective and the mass media, which glorifies their malignant deeds. The 1994 American crime film also garnered controversy with the media in real life for allegedly inspiring copycat crimes.
One of the horror genre’s underrated gems, Possession sees the relationship between an international spy Mark (Sam Neill), and his wife, Anna (Isabelle Adjani), collapsing, with the latter being suspected of having an affair. The truth is not always in plain sight as she exhibits increasingly bizarre behaviors that indicate the paranormal might be at the helm of Anna.
When audiences are least expecting, Possession transforms from a typical commentary on failing marriages into a body-horror film thematically engorging on the spectacle of a relationship turned sour and separation anxiety.
‘Birds Without Names’ (2017)
Holding on to an idealized version of romance is not always the healthiest. Unable to keep herself away from her abusive ex-lover, Towako (Yu Aoi) engages in hollow flings while living idly with a man fifteen years her senior, Jinji (Sadao Abe), who idolizes her. Towako’s life takes an unexpected turn when she finds out her toxic ex-lover has gone missing five years ago, and she suspects Jinji to be the one responsible.
While keeping viewers at the edge of their seats regarding the real culprit, Birds Without Names (2017) is a cryptic Japanese mystery thriller that provides an insight into victims of abusive relationships, which plays out like a self-punishment cycle.
‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (2004)
Jim Carrey sheds his comedic skin and metamorphoses into one of his best dramatic movie roles. Carrey plays Joel, a man heartbroken knowing his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) underwent a procedure to have memories of him erased from hers. Joel decides to follow in her footsteps but soon regrets his decisions when his love for Clementine remains strong.
Alongside the equally splendid and chameleon-like Winslet, the 2004 science-fiction romance drama is fueled by an unabashedly optimistic outlook on a pessimistic relationship. This relationship is doomed to be rekindled again and again due to being blindsided by the couple’s good memories.
An erotic psychological thriller directed by Louis Malle, Damage oversees the moral plummet of a respected British Politician Dr. Stephen Fleming (Jeremy Irons), when he becomes romantically involved with his son’s fiancé Anna Barton (Juliette Binoche).
As evident in one of the film’s quotes: “Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive,” the love between Fleming and Barton is societally forbidden while simultaneously interfering with the audiences’ moral compass. This film offers guilt-ridden thrills and pulls no punches in assessing the aftermath of the toxic relationship with other loved ones.
‘Bitter Moon’ (1992)
What happens when love becomes too passionate and all-so consuming? It crashes and burns, viscerally exemplified in Bitter Moon.
The erotic romance drama centers around two couples, Nigel (Hugh Grant) and Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas), who make up an ordinary couple, yet bored by each other’s unadventurous spirits in the romance department. On the other hand, Oscar (Peter Coyote) and Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner)’s passionate love affair across the years has survived bouts of ruinous jealousy, undaunted sexual exploration, and countless reconciliations.
‘Gone Girl’ (2014)
Fan-favorite “Cool Girl” Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and her vengeance towards her cheating husband Nick (Ben Affleck) will not be sorely missed out. Gone Girl initially portrays Amy as a white suburban wife and perfect woman, gradually revealing her true intentions behind her alleged kidnapping while consolidating her status as one of cinema’s beloved anti-heroes.
Both Amy and Nick strive to be better versions of themselves, pretending to be people they are not. When they fail to keep up with their romanticized images, Amy and Nick seek to destroy each other in sickness and health.
Tired of John Hughes‘ oeuvre of upbeat high-school romantic comedy, Heathers is the go-to flick for some dark comedy and anti-Valentines Day vibes. After new student J.D (Christian Slater) arrives, high school student Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) strays further from her popular clique and becomes involved in a series of murders staged as teenage suicides.
Fans of Mean Girls (2004) and The Lost Boys (1987) will share a mutual admiration for the teen film due to its timeless quality and witty account of archetypal high school drama. Not to mention the unorthodox but undeniable attraction between the two lovebirds, J.D and Veronica, that redefines “toxic relationships.”
‘Happy Together’ (1997)
“Let’s start over again,” says Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) to Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung) amidst their umpteen breakups and ensuing reconciliations.
Under the meticulous direction of prominent Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, Happy Together (1997) turns a destructive same-sex relationship into a poignant tale of romantic redemption. By residing in an alienated land and surrounded by foreign people, the longing sense for the other is fortified to the extent that all hostilities and betrayals in the past are overlooked in exchange for familiar intimacy.
‘Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!’ (1989)
One look at the title reminds one of Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), but Pedro Almodovar’s take on the pleasures and perils of Stockholm Syndrome offers so much more than just superficial acts of sadomasochism.
Recently released from a mental hospital, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! sees an unstable but beguiling Ricky (Antonio Banderas) on a quest to kidnap Marina Osorio (Victoria Abril), a porn star-turned actress with whom Ricky once shared intimacy. Amidst all the racy sequences and twisted love story, the 1989 dark rom-com offers a few laughs considering the outrageousness of its plot.
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