ByAndrei Bichinev, writer at
Journalist with a passion for movies
Andrei Bichinev

The quintessential life crisis — when people feel that they have lost the meaning and purpose of their existence — has been at the center of forms of art for ages. Not only the creative types suffer from such mental state, though: people of all ages and professions can experience one at any point in life, especially during melancholic time of autumn. Even though an existential crisis can prove difficult to live with, it is also a sign that something in life needs changing for better and afterwards, a new meaning and happiness can be found.

Along this bumpy road, some good movies on the matter could help to banish autumn's gloomy mood or even make the best of depressive feelings. Of course, watching films is no panacea to personal struggles, but sometimes to see from a different perspective could be useful. The following list is some of the best media on existential crisis, and includes both indie flicks and major studio movies, as well as an Italian cult classic and a HBO show.

7. Girl, Interrupted

This screen adaption of eponymous best-selling memoir by Susanna Kaysen was meant to become Winona Ryder's flagship role. Instead, the film catapulted the career of Angelina Jolie, who received an Oscar for her supporting performance as mentally ill Lisa.

Synopsis: Girl, Interrupted chronicles Kaysen's stay in mental facility after being diagnosed at 18 with borderline personality disorder. The film explores what impact the inpatient stay had on her life, and it particularly focuses on her friendship with Lisa, who acts as her foil throughout the story.

Bonus: The cast features Hollywood veterans Vanessa Redgrave and Whoppi Goldberg as well as then-new comers Jared Leto, Elizabeth Moss and the late Brittany Murphy.

6. Somewhere

[Credit: Universal Pictures]
[Credit: Universal Pictures]

This Sofia Coppola's movie from 2010 went almost unnoticed by critics and mainstream audience, but it's a great piece on existential crisis. Somewhere, unlike most movies on depression, doesn't feature excessive drama, rehabs and other typical entourage. It is a delicate and meditative picture with little dialogue. And even though problems of the rich and famous can appear amusing to many people, it is the lack of drama that makes this film relatable to a wider audience.

Synopsis: Hollywood actor Johnny, played by Stephen Dorff, suffers from unbearable lightness of being. He lives in Hollywood's iconic Chateau Marmont Hotel, falls asleep during lap dances and pointlessly makes circles around town in his Ferrari. Johnny's life starts to change after his daughter, portrayed by Elle Fanning, comes to visit.

5. Postcards From The Edge

[Credit: Columbia Pictures]
[Credit: Columbia Pictures]

Shot by iconic film director Mike Nichols, this movie is a screen adaption of Carrie Fisher's best-selling semi-autobiography of the same name. Our late Princess Leia is portrayed by her real-life friend Meryl Streep, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance. Carrie's mother, '50s sweetheart Debbie Reynolds, is played by Shirley MacLaine.

Synopsis: Postcards from the Edge centers around Carrie's battle with bipolar depression, addiction and subsequent career interruptions. Despite the fact that personal struggles haunted Carrie Fisher for the rest of her life, she nevertheless managed to build a successful career both as an actress and writer. Not bad for someone with severe bipolar disorder. The story also covers a complicated, layered, yet interdependent relationship between the mother and daughter. It is especially touching to watch the movie now, after Carrie and Debbie tragically passed away within a day of each other in December 2016.

4. La Dolce Vita

[Credit: Image Entertainment]
[Credit: Image Entertainment]

The most famous work of Italian cult director Federico Fellini is not about all things Italian as it appears to be at first glance. It also offers insights into the meaning of happiness and human existence.

Synopsis: The movie follows the life of Italian gossip journalist and his search for happiness in Rome's high society. On one hand, La Dolce Vita celebrates the famous Italian lifestyle of “dolce far niente," which means “pleasantly doing nothing.” The characters make love, eat pasta, drink a lot of wine and socialize. Yet on the other hand, you start to feel that there is nothing more depressing, boring and tragic that having this thoughtless and frighteningly strained fun.

3. Enlightened

Enlightened is one of those HBO shows that was canceled despite critical acclaim and devoted fans, much like Lisa Kudrow's Comeback back in the day. The show features Academy Award-nominated Laura Dern.

Synopsis: Enlightened tells a story of Amy, a corporate executive who suffers a major and embarrassing nervous breakdown at work. Amy went on to reinvent herself at the rehab in Hawaii and returns back to lead a new life. However, the people around her did not change as much as she had and that could trigger a relapse.

Bonus: Dern plays alongside with her real-life mother Diane Ladd, the duo frequently collaborates on screen.

2. Knight Of Cups

[Credit: Broad Green Pictures]
[Credit: Broad Green Pictures]

One of the latest works by Hollywood's most mysterious and reclusive director, Terrence Malick, is inspired by the eponymous card from the Tarot card deck.

Synopsis: Knight of Cups is about a depressed Hollywood screenwriter, played by Christian Bale, and his journey in search for love and meaning in life. Each part of the film represents different cards from the Tarot pack and the philosophical meaning behind it.

Bonus: There are stellar performances from Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman and Wes Bentley, just to name a few, accompanying Christian Bale on screen.

1. Rachel Getting Married

In 2008, in between hit comedies and blockbuster films, Anne Hathaway appeared in this small indie film and received her first nomination for an Academy Award.

Synopsis: Rachel Getting Married tells a story of Kym, a woman who struggles to overcome her addictions and depression. She is released from rehab to attend the wedding of her sister, but the family gathering results in significant drama. This film is not afraid to be realistic and, just like Enlightened, shows that the attitude of people around someone is just as crucial as the efforts of the one on the way to recovery.

Bonus: The film marks a rare screen appearance of acclaimed '80s actress Debra Winger, who mostly left the film industry in 1995.

Did this list include your favorite movie dealing with mental health and existential crisis? Join me in the comments section with your No. 1 pick.


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