Loneliness on the Big Screen

Photo by Kleigh Balugo

By Brigita Pryzbylski

** Warning: Spoilers ahead! **

We grow up on the promise of happily ever afters, an unrealistic and unattainable idea fed to us through movies with romantic fairytale endings. These stories can make us feel lonely and unhappy when comparing them to our own lives. We all innately crave human connection and long to create lasting relationships to feel nourished in life and less alone in our existence. But even with these connections, we can still feel lonely. And loneliness is subjective. Whether living by yourself in a new city or at a crowded concert with friends, feelings of loneliness can arise. This feeling may result if you’re struggling with something alone, physically alone somewhere, and/or romantically alone.

It’s important to be reminded that people, both real and fictional, experience feeling alone. There are a lot of movies with the theme of loneliness at their core, yet we usually only label them by their genre or main plot point, rather than the emotions involved. Strangely, I could list a bunch of children’s animated movies where characters express loneliness like Up, Frozen, Wall-E –  the list goes on. And there are many more movies than the ones on this list where characters are lonely, but I wanted to recommend some movies that might not be obvious in their depictions. So here are 10 movies about loneliness that can hopefully help you feel less alone. 

The Fallout (2021) | Directed by Megan Park

This drama follows a high school student, Vada (Jenna Ortega), who battles trauma following a school shooting. She struggles mentally while most people around her, including her classmates, continue on as though nothing happened. Feeling alone in how she was affected, she pushes away her friends and family and turns to alcohol and drugs for an escape. She also befriends Mia (Maddie Ziegler) who was with her during the incident, believing Mia is the only person who understands her trauma. The Fallout showcases how isolating navigating trauma can be and how the people around you can be unintentionally unsupportive and oblivious to how you are really doing. 

Joker (2019) | Directed by Todd Phillips

The main character of Joker inquires, “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society who abandons him and treats him like trash?” This anti-hero film about Arthur Fleck aka Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) opens with Arthur in a clown costume, laying in an alley alone after being beaten up by a group of kids. Joker is filmed with a lot of wide angles framing Arthur in empty streets and rooms, reflecting Arthur’s state of loneliness. There is irony in being in such a densely populated city surrounded by thousands of people yet feeling so alienated. But once he murders three men, people start to notice him for the wrong reasons, further plunging the film into chaos and jeopardizing the few relationships around him.

Unpregnant (2020) | Directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg

After discovering she is pregnant at 17, Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson) fears telling anyone close to her. When she discovers that she needs parental consent to get an abortion in Missouri, she reluctantly turns to her former best friend Bailey (Barbie Ferreira) to help her travel to New Mexico to get an abortion, not knowing who else to turn to. This comedy/drama focuses on a teen girl who feels alone in her situation, traveling across multiple states to become alone in her body again. Unpregnant explores the questions: who will support us, who will judge us, who can we trust, and who do we want to share our secrets with? 

Me Before You (2016) | Directed by Thea Sharrock

If you want a movie to cry to, this one’s for you. This romantic drama follows Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke), a young woman hired to take care of Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) after he becomes a quadriplegic following a motor vehicle accident. Will is constantly in pain and dependent on others for assistance, even with everyday tasks like eating and going to the bathroom. He doesn’t leave his room and only interacts with his parents and caregivers. Will misses his life before the accident and sorrows in the fact that he is no longer himself. Will is further reminded of how much his life has changed and how limited his social circle is when his former best friend marries his ex-girlfriend. Because Louisa experiences loneliness in her relationship with her boyfriend Patrick, who only seems to care about himself, she starts falling in love with Will the more time they spend together. But then Louisa finds out that Will has only agreed to let her take care of him for 6 months before he’ll travel to Switzerland for an assisted suicide. Running on a strict timetable, Louisa attempts to convince Will that he can have a fulfilling life with her, saving each other from loneliness 

The Martian (2015) | Directed by Ridley Scott

This book-to-movie adaptation follows astronaut and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is stuck on Mars alone after his crew escapes a storm and presumes he is dead. The Martian centers on perseverance and how one man struggles and innovates on an uninhabitable planet to try to stay alive. It’s just Mark, Mars, and a lot of potatoes. And when NASA examines satellite images that make them think Mark is still alive, his crew is initially not told of the discovery to prevent them from aborting their mission. Mark struggles to remain optimistic while searching for a way to return home, all alone.

The Age of Adaline (2016) | Directed by Lee Toland Krieger

She’s lived, but never had a life. After an accident, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) is stuck unaging at 29 years old. She goes on the run after the police and FBI become suspicious, changing her name and leaving her daughter behind. Adaline is constantly moving to different towns, lying to those around her, staying out of romantic relationships, and living alone for years. She feels like she’s unable to freely be herself or allow herself to love others, until she meets Ellis (Michiel Huisman). This movie is for those who feel like they don’t deserve love or think they have to keep their secrets to themselves. You don’t need to live your life alone. 

Fresh (2022) | Directed by Mimi Cave

In this romance/horror movie, Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is tired of online dating. So when Steve (Sebastian Stan) asks her out after meeting each other in person at a grocery store, specifically in the produce section, Noa is swept up in the romance. Noa is estranged from her family and relies on her best friend for a social life, facts she reveals to Steve who perceives her as the perfect next target. She becomes trapped in Steve’s remote house with no cell phone service, handcuffed in a tiny room in his basement. Noa discovers that she isn’t Steve’s first victim, but something about her makes Noa different from the others and gives her a chance at survival. After many failed dates and now being kidnapped by a murderer, I think Noa would rather be alone than go on another date with a man. 

Look Both Ways (2022) | Directed by Wanuri Kahiu

This film portrays the drastic juxtaposition of two simultaneous potential life outcomes after a possible pregnancy from a one-night stand. In one timeline, Natalie (Lili Reinhart) becomes pregnant right before her college graduation and sacrifices her career to raise her child. In the parallel timeline, Natalie’s pregnancy test is negative and she moves to LA with her best friend to pursue her dream career. Natalie especially experiences loneliness and FOMO in the reality where she is a mother. She raises her daughter with her parents and the child’s father, who she is secretly in love with, even though he is dating someone else. She feels like she is missing out on her goals and is failing in comparison to the rest of her class, especially since her best friend moved across the country without her. However, Natalie’s other timeline isn’t picture perfect as Natalie also experiences loneliness and desperation after a breakup and getting fired from her job. Thus proving that one timeline isn’t ideal compared to the other, they’re just different. Look Both Ways depicts how your life might not follow the path you envision, but you will pursue your dreams in the way and at the time that is meant for you, regardless of who is or isn’t in your life. 

Five Feet Apart (2019) | Directed by Justin Baldoni

This romantic drama centers around two teens with cystic fibrosis, Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will (Cole Sprouse), who spend most of their lives in the hospital. Due to their conditions, it’s unsafe for Stella and Will to be physically near each other in fear of getting fatally sick. But fear can’t stop love, even if that means they need to remain five feet apart from one another at all times. Stella and Will attempt distanced dating in the hospital and bond over the similarities in their medical journeys. They discuss the unfairness of life and the moments they’ve missed out on. They also share their insecurities about their surgical scars and how they don’t let others see those parts of themselves. The two also experience loss when other patients pass away, leaving them without their friends and part of their support system. Stella and Will become reckless in their pursuit of love, risking not only their safety but even more loss and loneliness.

Holidate (2020) | Directed by John Whitesell

To prevent feeling lonely during holidays and the dreaded family questions about one’s dating status, strangers Sloane (Emma Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey) make a promise to be each other’s “holidates,” or dates for all of the holidays during the year. They become each other’s platonic plus ones, even for smaller holidays like Saint Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo. Over the course of a year, their platonic feelings turn into something more, but Sloane and Jackson don’t know if they should break their promise and risk their friendship. Denying that they’re catching feelings for each other creates jealousy and confusion, pushing the pair apart instead of bringing them closer together, resurfacing their initial feelings of loneliness. Holidate is for those who enjoy the fake dating-to-lovers trope or relate to feeling alone during holidays.


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