A list like this – with such a broad subject – will never be complete. Never! The weather, in its many forms, will always be a source of great inspiration to filmmakers and it will always play an important part in the story. The rain has that certain something that some people look for in a film; it’s melancholic, it’s nostalgic, it’s sad, it’s beautiful…it’s many things.
According to a recent study one out of three films contains at least one scene in the rain. The rain is used for dramatic and metaphoric effect usually in key moments of the story. In romantic movies, it is often used in the climax of the film. In action movies, it is used to make the fight (or battle) scenes look cooler.
There are countless rain scenes from different movies that any cinephile can name without even thinking about it; the famous dance scene from “Singing in the Rain”, the phone booth scene from “Say Anything”, the village shoot-out scene from “Saving Private Ryan”, the kiss scene from “The Notebook”, the famous scene from “The Shawshank Redemption” where Tim Robbins breaks out of prison tasting freedom for the first time in many years, even the bizarre rain of frogs scene from “Magnolia”…and the list can go on forever.
This list concentrates on ten great films in which rain is features prominently and not just in a scene or two; almost becoming a character in the film. The list is chronological.
1. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
“Rashomon” is a masterpiece of world cinema and one of Akira Kurosawa’s best known films. The film is an adaptation of two short stories written by Japanese master Ryunosuke Akutagawa. The first story is the one that names the film. The name (of both the short story and the film) Rashomon refers to one of the city gates in Kyoto (Japan’s old capital city).
Despite using its name, the film has actually very little in common with the short story. Except for the introductory scene, where the characters take shelter at the famous gate from the rain, the film follows a different story line than the book. The other short story that inspired the film is “In a Grove”.
The story line and plot line of the film are actually adapted from this story rather than “Rashomon”. The film is known for a plot device that involves various characters providing alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions of the same incident. The term Rashomon effect, which took its name from the film’s title, refers to real-world situations in which multiple eye-witness testimonies of an event contain conflicting information.
Under the protecting roof of the ancient gate of Rashomon, three people (a Buddhist monk, a woodcutter and an anonymous passerby) take shelter from the hard rain. They discuss a recent event that shook the community that involved the bloody murder of a samurai.
Four recounts of the same story are told during the film; each very different from the other in terms of perspective. What is surprising is that out of the four none of the recounts turns out to be true; protecting one’s honor becomes more important than the truth itself. The recount closest to reality seems to be the one that the viewer tends to dismiss as being too farfetched to be true.
“Rashomon” has fascinated audiences since 1950 due to its complex plot but also due to its fantastic black and white images; especially those shot in the rain. Rain has always been important to Kurosawa but in “Rashomon” it represents a key element without whom the film would not present itself so well.
The story begins and ends in the rain. The narrators of the film are found sheltering themselves from the rain as a way to avoid facing the purity of the water that comes down from the sky. No matter how complicated the story gets it always comes back to the rain stricken Rashomon gate where the characters tell their stories and meditate.
2. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
Everyone knows, by now, that “The Magnificent Seven” is an American remake of Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”. Still, nowadays no one seems to talk about the importance and the beauty of this film aside from this trivial information. “Seven Samurai” is more than just a very well-made action film. It talks about morality, intellectual strength and fighting for what is right.
It also the first film to use choreography in its fight scenes and model its battle scenes after real-life tactics and strategies. It is also among the first films to use the now-common plot-element of the recruiting and gathering of heroes into a team to accomplish a specific goal
The film opens with a small Japanese village that is constantly attacked by bandits. Out of desperation, the villagers seek the help of the samurais, because they cannot afford weapons and even if they did, they do not have the skills to use them. The samurai sought out by the villagers agrees to help them and recruits six more samurais to form a team.
From this point on the film becomes a very stylized version of the classic theme of good versus evil. The teachings of the samurai are present throughout the whole film…even in the battle scenes. The rain is also present in the key scenes of the film putting an emphasis on the emotions conveyed in those certain scenes.
The rain’s most glorious apparition in this film is in the climax battle at the end, where it adds more drama to the characters’ agony. The warriors fall off their horses because of the slippery surface and blood is mixed with the muddy water formed on the ground. “Seven Samurai” is yet another example of Kurosawa’s brilliant use of rain in film.
3. The Last Wave (Peter Weir, 1977)
It seems impossible to make an apocalyptic film without special effects. Yet, “The Last Wave” is one of the pioneering films of the genre and it brilliantly achieves the dark and sinister feel of such a film using only the power of suggestion and the power of…rain. “The Last Wave” tells the story of Australian lawyer David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) who is solicited to defend the case of five Aborigines that have been accused of murder.
The film takes places in Sydney, a city besieged by freaky rainstorms and electrical discharges. Plagued by bizarre dreams, Burton begins to sense an otherworldly connection to the accused. He also feels connected to the increasingly strange weather phenomena besetting the city. His dreams intensify along with his obsession with the murder case, which he comes to believe is an Aboriginal tribal killing by curse. He also comes to believe that the strange weather bodes of a coming apocalypse.
The film uses the imminent coming of the apocalypse as a metaphor for the clash between the two cultures. Rain, in its violent and strange forms, is used every time something important happens in the film. This is done for two purposes; one is to emphasize the dramatic effect of the scene and the other is two is to cover the accuracy of the scene with a veil of incertitude.
Everything is vague and unclear because of the rain and the only one who seems to notice this is David Burton. This only increases his frustration and his fear of the coming apocalypse.
4. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
“Blade Runner” is one of those films that people just can’t stop talking about. It is also a film that transcends its SF genre appealing to every movie lover in general. It is seen as a philosophical film that opens eyes to the serious threats of the dystopian future.
Many fans of the film are very upset that the film is categorized as SF as it contains strong neo-noir elements. The decors, specific to a film of the 1950’s, the futurist cars, the rain that never stops falling, the music (Vangelis at his best), the grim atmosphere, the bleak image that sometimes bursts with colors, the obsessive attention to details… all these elements make “Blade Runner” an unforgettable cinematic experience.
“Blade Runner” is an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. It is set in the year 2019, a cyberpunk dystopian future in which artificial intelligence has reached its climax. Man has discovered the technology of creating human clones that are to be used to populate the space colonies. However, the clones have a limited lifespan. Retired police officer Rick Deckhard (Harrison Ford) specialized in tracking down such clones in order to destroy them.
Deckhard is persuaded to come out of his retirement to do one last job. It seems that four clones, that where programmed to have a four-year lifespan, have escaped their planet and have come to Earth illegally in order to extend their lives. After Deckhard reluctantly agrees, the chase is on!
The rain (acid rain to be exact) is very important to this film as it sets the tone of the action as well as the characters’ inner emotions. Despite his tough as nails reputation, Deckhard is not convinced he is doing the right thing and the fact that he has to do his reluctant job in the rain only adds to his doubt and growing sense of desperation.
5. Glengarry Glen Ross (James Foley, 1992)
Adapted from the Pullitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play of the same name written by David Mamet in 1984, “Glengarry Glen Ross” was dubbed, by its own cast, as “Death of a F***ing Salesman”, as it has similar themes conveyed with many curse words.
The plot is very simple; three New York real-estate agents (Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin and Ed Harris) are having a streak of bad luck closing deals, as opposed to their colleague Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) who seems to be on a roll. Their boss (Kevin Spacey) knows the agency is dying so he finds a unique way to motivate his employees.
This leads to the best part of the film – as reviewed by many – is a scene that is not even in the original play; it was added especially for the film. It is a cutthroat motivational speech from company man Blake (Alec Baldwin in a role written especially for the film version). Blake unleashes a torrent of verbal abuse on the men and announces that only the top two sellers will be allowed access to the more promising Glengarry leads and the rest of them will be fired.
The movie is a non-stop dialogue and the setting is a simple office room. Also playing a very important part in the film is the unseen rain. Because it takes place in an office room the rain is never seen but can heard in the background. It is also widely discussed by the characters who can’t recall the last time they witnessed so much rain-poor.
As the prospect of losing their jobs sends the characters into despair, the rain intensifies adding more tension (if possible) to the hopeless situation of the men. David Mamet and James Foley use “Glenagarry Glen Ross” to talk about corporate America and the limits of man but also give a film master class on minimalism and the power of the unseen character…the rain.