12 Non-Horror Films Where The Characters Get Lost In An Ambient


Getting lost in an ambient doesn’t mean merely not being able to orient and find the path; the films included in this list are stories of the characters being dominated during the narration by a narrative ambient. For the same reason, you’ll find Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis) on the same list with Gerry (Gus Van Sant), these protagonists are stuck in a location and can not find their way out. In some cases, we as the spectators remain on the same scale with the protagonist, so we too are lost, experiencing subjectively the same situation that the character finds him/herself in.

Paradoxically, in some other examples as The Adventure (L’avventura/Michelangelo Antonioni), the approach towards the lost character is a more objective one. We too lose track of the character; what we do experience in the films with absent character is feeling the emptiness of the already introduced presence of the character. We start questioning the motivations and analyzing the mute subjectivism of the absent character and try to find more about her/him through other characters of the film, describing the lost protagonist.


12. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)


William Blake (Johnny Depp) gets off his train to the town of Machine. But that’s not where he gets lost. He loses himself in a mental state: death, or between life and death, since the Indian, “Nobody” (played by Gary Farmer) insists he’s been long dead and now is merely carrying the old spirit of William Blake, the poet, in his body.

Dead Man is about mental metamorphosis. The character gradually gets to know his state and believes in the unbelievable. He loses his current identity and gains another one.


11. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009)

max records where the wild things are

The story of this film is as simple as it seems. The protagonist is a child, Max; he runs from his home, discovering an imaginary land with imaginary creatures. The initial presentation as always says it all, we soon spot Max as a child who has an overactive imagination, he invents stories and his mother Connie (Catherine Keener) writes them down for him.

Rightfully the imaginary location that he ends up in it, is a place adapted and seen through a child’s point of view. Also in this case, the protagonist actually chooses to lose track of his real life.


10. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999)


When Craig (played by John Cusack) first crawls down the odd, secret passage, he has no idea that he’s going to end up in John Malkovich’s head, secretly seeing what he’s looking at, watching the world through Malkovich’s eyes.

Except for Maxine (Catherine Keener) and Malkovich himself, every other character wishes to leave his/her own body and start living as another person. They willingly decide to lose their identity, though for Malkovich this is too heavy, difficult to bear, he obviously can not get inside his own head, he’s already there. So losing for Malkovich means physically hosting whoever else who wants to live life through Malkovich’s point of view.

Wisely, Kaufman indicates that hosting another person who desires to see through your eyes, means giving up the personal identity. Malkovich loses control of his life as the one who settles in his head is a puppeteer (Craig) and remains imprisoned for the most part of the story in his own head.

Imagining subjectivism of a character as a physically existent location is what repeats itself in other Kaufman’s narrations like Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004) and Synecdoche, New York (Kaufman, 2008).


9. Night on Earth New York episode (Jim Jarmusch, 1991)

night on earth new york

In the New York episode in Night on Earth, Helmut (played by Armin Mueller Stahl), who is passing his very first day of work in New York, gets to know the real face of the city which is totally different from what he has seen till that very moment. He’s optimist, excited by the idea of moving to New York, choosing to leave his career as a clown and his country of origin, East Germany, behind.

The very first passenger of his is YoYo (Giancarlo Esposito) who wants to go all the way down to Brooklyn. Since Helmut is not familiar with the city and he can’t even drive well, YoYo sits behind the steering wheel and drives the taxi to his destination. Not knowing how to find his way back to the city center, Helmut gets lost in the dark streets of Brooklyn, facing an utterly different view of what he has seen till now.


8. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)


Groundhog Day is another story about a character not being able to leave, though the protagonist of Groundhog Day Phil (played by Bill Murray) is not blocked in a location or a physical place; he’s stuck in a period of time: just one specific day.

Each day he wakes up with the hope that he has succeeded in liberating himself from that very day, moving forward to the next one, tomorrow. But tomorrow doesn’t exist anymore for Phil, not even by committing suicide, would be able to leave that temporal phase, if he dies in that very day, he’ll wake up again on the same morning anyway, repeating over and over the same encounters and facts.


7. U Turn (Oliver Stone, 1997)


The protagonist of U Turn Bobby Cooper (played by Sean Penn) doesn’t choose to get lost; he’s simply forced to stop his already started trip to California and remain in an unknown city in the middle of Arizona. U Turn is the story of an interrupted path, everything in that small town is new to the character, so as he starts to walk around the deserted streets and getting to know the characters he accidentally encounters, we too start to explore the place.

In fact every other character in the story seems to be stuck and desires to find a way out as Grace (played by Jeniffer Lopez) and Jenny (played by Claire Danes), all blocked by those who are acting as living obstacles, as the mechanic, Darrell (Billy Bob Thonton) or Toby, known as TNT (played by Joaquin Phoenix) who hysterically just close any half open door and leave the well-designed escape plans blocked.

The background story, Bobby’s chopped finger creates a proper dramatic treatment that gives sense to the intended trip of the character and leaves us to imagine the gravely unpleasant consequences that are waiting for the character if he doesn’t succeed to leave the town.