Loneliness is intrinsic to the human experience, whether we experience it in small doses or regularly feel its soul-crushing weight. The topic of loneliness relates to our innate desire for love in its varying forms – romantic, platonic, and familial. We wish to feel understood, appreciated and supported in a world that, as individuals, we enter alone, often resorting to cinema to witness characters experiencing similar emotions.
Directors have often explored loneliness, its presence manifesting in both meditative dramas and lighthearted comedies. We will all experience loneliness at some point in our lives, making it the perfect topic to explore on the big screen. According to Andrew Haigh, director of Weekend and 45 Years, “If I’m feeling miserable, I want to listen to music or watch something that burrows directly into that emotion. Crying when you watch a film can be incredibly cathartic. If someone else can express how you are feeling through a song or a film, or a book, then you feel infinitely less alone.”
Films about loneliness, from the mellow romantic comedy-drama Lost in Translation to the offbeat humour of the quirky Welcome to the Dollhouse, often contain a strong air of relatability, thus gaining a beloved cult following. Furthermore, following the Covid-19 lockdowns, feelings of loneliness have become significantly more widespread amongst the population, leading audiences to seek out movies that recognise such themes.
Here are ten of the best films about loneliness that are undoubtedly worth your time.
The 10 best movies about loneliness:
Three Colours: Blue (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1993)
Three Colours: Blue is the first instalment in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s beautiful Three Colours trilogy, inspired by the French Revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Blue explores emotional liberty and stars Juliette Binoche as Julie, a woman reeling from the loss of her husband and daughter from a car crash she narrowly survived. Julie decides to isolate herself from everyone and begin a new life alone as a means of coping. Yet, in her quest for liberty, Julie discovers people that make her question everything about her past.
With an overwhelmingly blue colour palette to convey the depths of Julie’s grief and melancholy, Kieslowski paints a bold portrait of a woman struggling to come to terms with being alone. Binoche took home a Best Actress Cesar Award for her stunning performance and secured a Golden Globe nomination.
Chungking Express (Wong Kar-Wai, 1994)
Wong Kar-Wai is a master of depicting loneliness on screen, typically using neon city hues as a backdrop for isolated characters, such as Takeshi Kaneshiro’s lonely and broken-hearted police officer Cop 223 in Chungking Express. The film is divided into two, and in the second half, we see Tony Leung’s lonely Cop 663 fall for Faye Wong’s eccentric snack-bar worker. Wong discussed his inspiration behind the film, stating: “Nowadays, people are more likely to talk to themselves than to others.”
The lonely characters of Chungking Express do their best to find a connection with others, even if it gets lost along the way. Still, the film is a surprisingly enlivening experience, painting loneliness with beautifully romantic hues. A tin of pineapple bears significant meaning to lonely Cop 223, demonstrating how strangely isolation can manifest in everyday life.
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
“Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape,” says Travis Bickle, the isolated protagonist of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. As a lonely war veteran-turned-taxi-driver suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Travis drives the seedy streets of New York at night, feeling completely separated from society. Bernard Herrmann’s evocatively moody score soundtracks Travis’ loneliness, as Scorsese introduces us to a man with no close friends, pining after a woman from afar, wholly detached from reality.
Not only is Taxi Driver a celebrated study of masculinity, but one that is powered by the universal experience of loneliness, something that Travis attempts to free himself from throughout the film. Taxi Driver is often the first film that comes to mind when asked to name a movie about loneliness – the way Scorsese contrasts the bustling neon-lit city streets with Travis inside his taxi is simply unforgettable.
Welcome to the Dollhouse (Todd Solondz, 1995)
Welcome to the Dollhouse is an underappreciated mid-90s coming-of-age black comedy from Todd Solondz. Heather Matarazzo stars as Dawn Weiner, an unpopular middle schooler who is often the butt of her peers’ jokes. Throughout the film, Dawn attempts to attract the affection of a high-school heartthrob and dodge her main bully, Brandon, all whilst her spoilt little sister goes missing. Dawn is the ultimate loner, isolated from her friends and family. Watching Dawn get herself into uncomfortable situations is often heartbreaking, yet Solandz’s use of dark humour makes the film instantly charming and memorable.
Welcome to the Dollhouse is a subversive coming-of-age tale, yet one that feels painfully realistic. Solandz captures the awkwardness and loneliness of being a young girl exceptionally well, and the film has since become a cult favourite.
Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)
Alongside 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris is widely recognised as one of the greatest space films ever made. Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, the film follows a man, Kris, sent to investigate the unexplained behaviour of scientists on board a spacecraft orbiting the fictional planet of Solaris. He quickly falls victim to the same strange ways that have affected the other passengers. The film is a slow-paced psychological drama complete with long takes and meditative sequences synonymous with Tarkovsky.
When Kris is confronted with images from his past, he falls into deep loneliness and isolation – and what better place to set a film that explores such alienating feelings than on another planet? Solaris won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury at Cannes and helped to bring a greater level of depth to science-fiction cinema.
Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
Sofia Coppola earned the ‘Best Original Screenplay’ Academy Award for Lost in Translation, her second film. Starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray as Americans living in Japan, Coppola uses the idea of cultural disconnection to explore loneliness. Johansson’s character Charlotte is a young graduate accompanying her busy photographer husband in the city, spending much of her time listening to music and staring out of her window onto the expansive city of Tokyo below. Meanwhile, Murray’s Bob is an ageing movie star who now stars in whiskey adverts, struggling to navigate a midlife crisis and disintegrating marriage.
Although the pair appear to be complete opposites, a shared feeling of loneliness and isolation unites them. Coppola cited the strain in her marriage to filmmaker Spike Jonze as inspiration for the film, which eventually inspired him to make the desperately lonely 2013 film Her, also starring Johansson.
Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
Ingmar Bergman was one of the greatest visionaries in cinema, possessing an unmatched talent for conveying human emotions. In Wild Strawberries, Victor Sjöström, in his last screen performance, plays an elderly man reflecting on his life, alongside Bergman regulars such as Bibi Andersson and Max von Sydow. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, Bergman explores themes of loneliness and introspection, with Sjöström’s character forced to confront memories and visions of his past, pondering what could have been.
The film ranks amongst Bergman’s best works, and it took home the Golden Globe for ‘Best Foreign Film’ in 1960. With its transcendental reflection on the human experience, it’s no wonder both Tarkovsky and Stanley Kubrick labelled Wild Strawberries one of their favourite films of all time.
Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
British filmmaker Andrea Arnold released her stunning second feature film, Fish Tank, in 2009, starring Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, and Kierston Wareing. Set on an East London council estate, the film follows Mia, a lonely and temperamental 15-year-old who lacks support, care and friendship. She preoccupies her time with dancing and wandering the streets; however, her life quickly changes when she meets her mother’s boyfriend, Conor. The pair’s relationship becomes increasingly flirtatious, and Mia latches onto his presence.
Arnold’s camera sensitively conveys the complicated nature of growing up, chronicling a life-changing summer of innocence lost. Mia’s behaviour reflects her loneliness, suggesting that all she desires is to be understood and loved. Unfortunately, she can’t help but find it in the wrong places.
The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001)
Adapted from Elfriede Jelinek’s novel of the same name, Michael Haneke’s thrilling erotic drama The Piano Teacher examines the lonely and sexually repressed Erika, played by Isabelle Huppert. Living with her overbearing and overprotective mother, Erika grapples with intense feelings of sexual and emotional repression. Despite her put-together appearance, Erika is cripplingly lonely and engages in extreme behaviours such as self-mutilation, voyeurism and sadomasochistic fantasies to fill the void. Erika’s behaviour becomes increasingly intense as the film progresses, culminating in destruction.
The Piano Teacher explores the lengths an individual will go to when experiencing soul-destroying loneliness, isolation and disconnection. Huppert gives the performance of a lifetime, which won her the Best Actress accolade at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Green Ray (Eric Rohmer, 1986)
Eric Rohmer was a significant figure of the French New Wave, yet one of the only directors from the era to maintain such an exceptional output until he died in 2010. As Rohmer’s career progressed, he moved away from the male-dominated Six Moral Tales series (1963-72) and focused his attention on female protagonists in the Comedies and Proverbs series (1981-87), which included The Green Ray.
The film stars Marie Rivière as the lonely Delphine, a recently single Parisian attempting to navigate her summer. She wanders aimlessly around beaches and towns, searching for something she can’t be entirely sure of, struggling to connect with those around her. Rivière gives an excellently tender performance, and Rohmer’s lens captures Delphine’s emotions with great sensitivity.