Here at Latent Images, we are passionate about leading student discussions on film and media. As part of a new ongoing series, each month we will be highlighting a different selection of favorites from our team of staff writers and contributors. Monthly selections will alternate, varying on different kinds of topics — from actors, to film scores, to noteworthy moments — giving students the space to discuss, recommend, and praise as they please.
This month, we’re looking at the films that left us reeling from love’s pitfalls. While Valentines Day was some weeks ago, we’re still enamored with the films that capture the feeling of heartbreak.
Starman, 1984, dir. John Carpenter, USA
Jenny Hayden, played by Karen Allen, is visited late one night by an extraterrestrial that takes the form of her recently deceased husband, Scott, played by Jeff Bridges. She is forced to drive him back to Arizona where he will be picked up by his species. Along the drive to Arizona, Hayden comes to recognize her Scott in the alien clone, and the two form a close bond. She explains to him hunger, expletives, and speeding through yellow lights so he can learn about this planet. Unlike the killer alien species seen in his The Thing from two years before, Carpenter’s alien lifeform is much more sympathetic to the human race. Jenny sings All I Have to Do Is Dream by the Everly Brothers and the entire film stops for her. She dreams of Scott and he comes back to life through the power of another lifeform. Given a second chance at love and escape from loss and grief, Jenny spends her time with Scott sharing with him the pleasures of Earth such as apple pie, the beautiful landscapes, music, and love. Their short three days together help Jenny move past the death of her husband and move towards a life with their son. When Scott first tries to tell Jenny that he means her no harm, that he took the form of Scott to keep her at ease, Jack Nitzsche’s score kicks in and the tears start flowing. By the end of the film, the score returns emphasizing the love they now share. Starman is John Carpenter’s most touching film as it will strike right through to the heart with Scott and Jenny’s heartwarming goodbye that transcends the universe. –Aidan Collins
The Godfather: Part II, 1974, dir. Francis Ford Coppola, United States
In his criminal epic that intertwines generations of familial tragedy and history, Coppola builds up to a karmic tale of familial heartbreak that forms betrayals of biblical proportions. Part II details the early life of the late Vito Corleone, who flees to New York after his family is executed by the Mafia. The film builds the godfather’s origins through a quick-witted, confident portrayal by Robert De Niro, who murders a local extortionist to establish his ascendance to control. But Coppola also expands on the present, showing the ripples of generational crime through Vito’s son, Michael, and the difficult choices he makes that destroy the innocent facade of family. Many testaments of the film portray crime as a root that both makes and breaks the Corleone family—the wealthy parties hiding whispers of deceit and business, with everything underscored by fear for personal safety—but the most heartbreaking disclosure occurs at the New Year’s party. When Michael, suspicious of a traitor from the beginning, catches his brother, Fredo, in a lie, he reveals a bombshell of deceit that spits on the importance of family loyalty. The iconic, aggressive kiss between Michael and Fredo, followed by Al Pacino’s venomous lines: “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart,” makes this climactic interaction unforgettable. The old year has ended and the unforgivable has been done. With Michael’s kiss of heartbreak and the return of betrayal, the viewer recognizes how crime and greed have broken the deepest of bonds—and the cycle of secrecy and violence begins again.-Casey Richards-Bradt
All About Lily Chou-Chou, 2001, dir. Shunji Iwai, Japan
Is there anything more heartbreaking than the destruction of youth? All About Lily Chou-Chou is not an answer to the question, but rather a display of the agony of witnessing such destruction. Taking place in the proto-internet era of BBS and CDs, the 2001 film centers around the turbulent life of Yuichi, who escapes the bullying and abuse around him through the ethereal soundscape of the Björk-esque songstress, Lily Chou-Chou. The film opens with an aerial shot that can only be described as heavenly – miles of emerald paddy field, glittered by the sunset, stretching beyond what eyes can see; there Yuichi stands, a Walkman in his hand, Lily’s dream pop over the horizon. Its delicacy almost makes you forget this is a Shunji Iwai film, where the truth of beauty is found in its annihilation. Indeed, when the film unleashes its full malice on Yuichi, as well as everyone around him, the audience finds themselves dumbfounded and disturbed by how nauseatingly naked it is, as we travel back and forth between an Elysium and an inferno – It’s all about juxtaposition: the shade is so much more devastating to bear when one has seen the light. Generally recognized as the director’s magnum opus, All About Lily Chou-Chou is a bleaker-than-black vision of coming of age that taunts its audience for even holding a faint hope, as it floods and drowns all innocence there is with despair.- Richard Zheng
Midsommar, 2019, dir. Ari Aster, USA
Heartbreak has never felt more colorful than in Ari Aster’s infamous psychological film Midsommar. Beyond grappling with trauma and cults, Aster’s 2019 movie also considers the reality of unhealthy relationships. The protagonist Dani (Florence Pugh) travels to a Swedish village with her estranged boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) in order to cope with the recent loss of her sister and parents. Their trip becomes more peculiar the more Dani begins to understand the practices this Swedish town embodies, such as ritualistic suicides and drug-induced dance festivals. Indeed, the real heartbreak of the film curates itself from drugs (as well as from Christian’s general dismissive qualities), when Dani catches her boyfriend engaged in a sexual ritual with another Swedish girl. This is perhaps her breaking point in the film; that her life will never be the same, that the person she thought once knew she didn’t know at all. It is a gut-wrenching scene, this realization. She breaks down on the floor with other Swedish women, screaming in each other’s faces, wailing in agony, another ritual in a sea of festivities. With this heartbreak, however, also comes a sense of autonomy, as seen when Dani is crowned the village’s Mayqueen. She embraces her new normal, born from the ashes of her past (and of her boyfriend being burned alive in a bear suit) in the final frame, a menacing sort of grin accepting this reality. – Molly Kurpis