8. The Reader (2008)
In Neustadt, Germany, the 15-year-old Michael (David Kross – an older Michael is portrayed by Ralph Fiennes) meets the older 36-year-old Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet in her Oscar winning role), in an alleyway where he is throwing up from Scarlett fever.
She helps him home and in return, three months later, he visits her with flowers to thank her. She forces the dirty Michael to take a bath, which embarasses, confuses and arouses him at the same time. She seduces him and they begin an affair before even learning each other’s names.
Hiding this secret, Michael becomes distracted, distant, and avoidant of activities that may interfere with his time with her. Their relationship revolves around having sex and Michael reading books outloud to her. Soon, he starts to resent her for making him carry this heavy weight and her lack of interest in his personal life. She responds by leaving him and her apartment with no goodbye.
Cut to 1966 where Michael is at law school observing the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. With his head turned to pick up a pencil, he hears Hannah’s voice and slowly responds as he figures out that she was one of the SS guards responsible for allowing 300 Jews to burn in a Church in 1944, which was prior to their first meeting.
His feelings of victimization which have left him emotionally distant and unavailable to girls his own age and affected his relationship with his future daughter become meaningless in comparison to the pain she caused others, leaving him devastated and strangely sympathetic to this woman he thought he knew.
7. The Last Picture Show (1971)
Peter Bogdanovich’s nostalgic coming-of-age story sticks to old-fashioned principles in the time of experimentation. Set in a small, dusty town in north Texas in 1951 to 1952, the film captures the difference in interests and priorities between generations, highlighted by a newcomer cast with Cybill Sheppard, Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms, set against experts like Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman and Ellen Burstyn whose careers were all changed by this film’s impact.
After breaking up with his girlfriend, Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) starts taking out his high school football coach’s wife Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman in her Oscar winning role) at his coach’s request. Disappointed by her husband’s neglect, Ruth is constantly tearing up about something and extremely passive.
After a drive, she invites Sonny in for a drink before he leaves and while he is sipping his Dr. Pepper, she bursts out crying again. When Sonny tries to console her, she in infers that her husband is cheating on her.
They begin an affair which gives meaning to Ruth’s dull life of being ignored. Bogdanovich exchanges lustful passion for realism, capturing the awkward moments of undressing by themselves in separate corners, both embarrassed, scared and inexperienced to a degree. The loud creaky bedsprings, her tears and their taut dialogue make way for their innocence to come through without judgement.
6. Harold & Maude (1971)
Hal Ashby’s cult film revolves around the young and rich Harold Chasen (Bud Cort, who was 21-years-old at the time) whose obsession with death stems from his fear of life and aging. His time is spent attending strangers’ funerals and staging elaborate and theatrical fake suicide attempts to attract his mother’s (Vivian Pickle) attention.
He meets the old 79-year-old Maude (Oscar winning actress and Oscar nominated screenwriter Ruth Gordon) who also attends stranger’s funerals, but for a different reason. She is not afraid of death. Rather, she longs for it. A love story grows out of their obsessive habits, revolting all other characters in the film. Her quirky impulsiveness extends beyond what is legal (stealing cars) or appropriate (seducing a boy sixty years younger than her). Her fondness for life contrasts with his morbid outlook.
The film runs over a week or so until Maude’s 80th Birthday, although it seems much longer than that since their relationship escalates rapidly. With running commentary from his psychiatrist about his Oedipus complex, the film integrates dark humour with existential drama.
5. The Piano Teacher (2001)
Michael Haneke’s French-Austrian thriller focuses on Erika Kohut (Isabell Hupport) a piano professor who still lives with her obsessive and abusive mother, despite being in her 40s. Still immature and emotionally dependent, Erika’s sexual repression reveals itself through voyeurism, watching porn at a sex shop, urinating in public places, and sadomasochistic practices like self-harm.
Her obsessive romance with her 17-year-old student Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel) is probably one of the most understandable things to the audience out of all her paraphilic habits. Although Erika initially rebuffs Walter, she eventually responds but only conditionally. She insists on first humiliating and frustrating him and in return for fulfilling her masochistic fantasies of being beaten (which disgust Walter), she will have sex with him.
Her fixation with him extends to such jealousy that after she sees him talking to one of her other students – a girl – she does her utmost to ruin not only her performance at her jubilee concert, but her entire life.
4. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Billy Wilder’s hard and cynical film takes a close and realistic look inside the illusionary magnificence of Hollywood. Opening with the ending, Joe Gillis (William Holden) floats in the swimming pool of a decaying mansion in Sunset Boulevard. The whole film is a flashback which recounts his doomed life. Six months earlier, the unemployed screenwriter becomes the script doctor for the melodramatic, long forgotten silent-movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson).
Insisting that she must watch him edit her script for her grand “return” (not “comeback”) to cinema, he moves into her mansion and becomes dependant on her for money. She enjoys the new company and smothers him with expensive gifts and movie nights where they would only see old films which she has starred in.
After noticing that he is the only person, besides her loyal butler (Erich von Stroheim) and a string quartet, to be invited to her New Year’s Eve party, he realises that she is in love with him. When he tries to turn her down gently, she is so devastatingly hurt that she goes to extremes. It is clear that he longs to leave her and find a younger girl who can actually laugh, which is exactly what Norma is terrified of.
3. The Graduate (1967)
Mike Nichols’ high-profile and influential satirical comedy-drama takes a candid look at empty time in the Suburbs, where the college grad Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) returns home with no plans about his future and has nothing much to do besides lounge in the pool.
On his 21st birthday, his family throws a party for him with a bunch of their friends, including Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), who insists that Benjamin drives her home. She coerces him to have a drink with her and tries to seduce him. While he initially rebuffs her, they soon begin a sexual relationship, meeting daily at a hotel.
Mrs. Robinson refuses to talk about her personal life and her daughter, except in one scene where she changes from an emotionless predator to a sympathetic woman who lost her youth to a man she does not truly love because she got pregnant.
Ben’s parents force him to go on a date with Elaine (Katherine Ross), Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, who turns out to be someone Ben feels comfortable with and can actually talk to, unlike her mother. This results in an unlikely romantic trio, with Elaine unknowingly competing with her mother and Mrs. Robinson pleading and blackmailing Ben to stop seeing her.
The film is a key achievement in the 60s, not only for its smooth tracking transitions between scenes and dramatic zoom-outs, but for the incorporation of both newly composed music by the folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel and their popular past hits that were already loved by many.
Nichols’ direction led Hoffman to become a method actor, playing his part without acting and leading to Ben’s unforced awkwardness and strange mannerisms which served as inspiration to many future characters, including Max in “Rushmore’.
2. Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1974)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s West German masterpiece also pays homage to “All That Heaven Allows” but tempers with the themes by adding race and ethnicity and making the age gap between the two main characters more substantial.
The unlikely love affair begins as a joke. Ali (El Hedi ben Salam), a Moroccan guest worker in his late thirties, is in a bar with some friends, one of whom dares him to ask the old 60-something German woman, Emmi (Brigitte Mira), to dance. However, as they speak, he finds her genuine interest and kindness intriguing enough to prolong their 2-minute dance to an entire night in her apartment.
Their mutual loneliness acts as a catalyst and tenderness develops into a full blown relationship. However, their new-found happiness is quickly dampened by the ensuing scandal and mockery. Due to Ali’s ethnicity and their large age-gap, Emmi is rejected by her children, her co-workers and neighbours. Her world crashes around her, leaving only Ali to make up for all her lost connections, a weight too heavy for him to carry alone.
Fassbinder’s patient camera work reflects the distance felt between characters, whether due to hostility or miscommunication, the steady long shots with plenty of negative space and motionless expressions contribute the film’s unexpected yet moving message about love.
1. All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Douglas Sirk’s melodrama focuses on the social ostracism resulting from the unexpected relationship between the well-off widow Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) and her much younger gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson).
Ron’s down-to-earth attitude and his simplistic lifestyle intrigues her and they fall in love. However, it is tried by her selfish grown children’s embarrassment, neighbors’ false rumors and Cary’s own useless sacrifices for everyone else’s peace of mind. Instead of marrying the man she loves, her needs are ignored and her time with him replaced by a new TV set.
Ironically, Wyman was only 38-years-old during production when she portrayed the widowed mother to college kids in their twenties. Hudson, who was seen as significantly younger than Wyman, was 30-years-old – making the huge scandalous age gap to be just eight years.
The film inspired Todd Haynes’s “Far From Heaven” (2002) which replaces the controversy about age to social exclusion due to race.
Author Bio: Susannah Farrugia is an undergraduate Psychology student at the University Of Malta. Her life is measured in films and television shows. She enjoys drawing scenes and designing posters based on the films she has seen.