Movies about painful or sensitive subjects

I am drawn to movies about human suffering, the ability of humans to inflict pain on one another, what people are capable of doing for money/power and what they’re prepared to do to survive, because I crave to understand the shadowy aspects of humanity: what makes us tick and/or stop ticking.

Movies about painful or sensitive subjects don’t necessarily have a so-called ‘happy’ ending but they need to have enough of a silver lining at the end that the audience isn’t completely devastated.

If you can handle really painful stories, I recommend the below movies.

Samson and Delilah

This movie starts off in a remote community in Central Australia, and in Warlpiri language. It follows young Samson, who is addicted to petrol-sniffing and can’t think straight or talk much, and Delilah who is a strong, traditional young woman, when they leave their families behind to go to the big smoke of Alice Springs. This movie is not pretty. It’s hard and gritty and realistic about what really happens to kids like this and despair permeates scene after scene like a rotting corpse. There’s not much hope here, not much to hold onto. It’s almost unbearable to watch. But like all good movies, Samson and Delilah gives you just enough of a ray of sunshine at the end that you can bear all you have been through. A glimpse of goodness, and love, and even hope.

See: Samson and Delilah – Trailer .

Song for a Raggy Boy

This movie was really hard to watch. It’s about young boys being abused by priests. My heart was squeezed to my chest. I was shattered.

But again, Raggy Boy has a kind of silver lining at the end – enough to lift your heart so it feels sorrow and relief instead of dull despair. I won’t be ready to watch it again for another few years at least; maybe ever. But I do recommend you watch it once.

See: Song for a Raggy Boy – Trailer


This isn’t as harsh as the above movies, but it did kill me a little bit, watching it.

This movie is about men. Real men versus wankers, good men versus arseholes, grown men versus boys, and it shows clearly that whatever their colour, men are all the same under the skin. It’s also about poverty and friendship and goodness.

The story is about Joe, who is living in a small town in southern USA. He lives day to day, just holding it together, trying to stay out of trouble in a violent world. He becomes friends with a 15-year-old boy who has an alcoholic abusive father, a worn-out mum who gave up hope long ago, and a silent little sister (‘one day she just stopped talking’). There’s a lot of despair and pain in this movie. But there’s also enough love to keep you going and watch it till the end which shows that good people really can make the world a better place.

See: Joe – Trailer

Other recommended movies

There are plenty of other movies I’ve found almost unbearable to watch but which were well worth the effort. Here are a few:

  • Oranges and Sunshine – full movie on Youtube: about the survivors of the ‘stolen generations’ of English kids sent by the British government to Australia, where they were abused in institutions.
  • Slumdog Millionaire: set in India: about poverty, child abuse and the capacity for human kindness, love and goodness despite all odds.
  • The Roundup – Trailer: I’ve watched a lot of movies about The Holocaust but this hit me harder than most. It shows the French government’s collusion with the German Nazis which resulted in many thousands of men, women and children being gassed.
  • Toomelah: Oh, this was a hard movie to watch. The environment is poverty, despair, abuse, violence. But still, there is a chance of love and hope.

Image: Melbourne. Photo by S W Kane 

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