Isolated from the rest of the world with little company, we understandably turn to books, video games and films to mentally escape the confines of our four walls. We prefer adventures and fantasies, stories where we get to experience the outside world without actually going outside. You may be forgiven for thinking that remaining indoors for the next few weeks or months may somewhat stagnate your life and leave it lacking variety. After all, what great life stories were ever written about the one who never went outside?
Lest we forget, some of the greatest stories to be shown on screen have been about characters who were stuck in somewhat similar situations to what we are facing! So in keeping with the relevant theme of self-isolation, I dedicate this article to the greatest films ever made that (mostly) take place in a single setting, be it is a building, a room or a vehicle.
Without further ado, in chronological order of release, here are ten ‘quarantine’ films that may inspire, entertain, and probably connect with you in these dark times.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
The first film on this list is likely the least known one. Nevertheless, it was difficult for me to look past this French silent film which focuses on the difficult final moments and martyrdom of Joan of Arc, the 15th century teenage saviour of France during the Hundred Years’ War (a figure that history buffs and Francophiles may be familiar with!)
The Passion of Joan of Arc takes place entirely inside a concrete prison and is filled with countless close ups which trap the protagonist’s face in an island of her own, stranded and outnumbered by the sea of clergymen who will stop at nothing to make her confess her crimes. These close ups bring out one of the greatest performances ever filmed on screen from Renée Jeanne Falconetti and make The Passion of Joan of Arc one of the greatest, rule-breaking pieces of cinema.
It is a harrowing, intense watch, but one that reminds us that when confronted with a difficult, inescapable situation, it is always worth being true to yourself if it is for the greater good.
Rear Window (1954)
Days into self-isolation, you may have taken to staring out of your window for hours out of sheer boredom. That is exactly what Jefferies, an observant photographer played by James Stewart, does in Rear Window while recovering from a broken leg. Longing for adventure but unable to do so, Jefferies might just be one of the most relatable character in all of cinema during this pandemic. When his prying eyes catch that a murder might have taken place, he attempts to piece together all the clues he can find through his rear window, with the help of his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), to confirm his suspicions that the worst has happened.
Honourable mentions go to Alfred Hitchcock’s other efforts – Rope, Lifeboat and Dial M for Murder – each of which are filmed in similarly restricted sets and are just as suspenseful. But Rear Window, which not only is an intelligent murder mystery in itself but also an insight into Hitchcock’s own dark voyeuristic tendencies, is one of the greatest and most surprisingly gripping films of all time.
If there is one lesson you can take from this film, it’s this: keep looking through that window! You never know what you might uncover.
12 Angry Men (1957)
Twelve jury members. One jury room. One decision to determine whether a man has committed patricide and hence deserves a death sentence. Eleven jury members are sure that he does, but one says there is reasonable doubt and attempts to convince the rest of his position.
The storyline appears deceptively simple but its unique characters and themes are certainly not. Through seemingly clear-cut court case, the characters discover how their own life experiences, politics, ethnicities, social classes and motivations give them different perspectives on morality and justice, and how their biases often prevent us from seeing the truth.
Despite being released sixty years ago, 12 Angry Men is more relevant now than ever in our polarised society, especially if you are quarantined with someone who shares a very different worldview to you.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
There are very few films in which there is a hostage situation and you root for the abductors. This is one of those films. Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (he also directed 12 Angry Men which is on this list) won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscar and follows two bank robbers Sonny and Sal (respectively played by Al Pacino and John Cazale) who are forced to take hostages after the robbery goes wrong. With the police hovering over the bank, the crime duo are caught in a stalemate and forced to negotiate their way out of it.
Soon, Sonny and Sal begin to gain favour with the crowd emerging outside (the most iconic scene is where Sonny stands outside the bank screaming “Attica! Attica!”, inciting the crowd to recall the Attica prison riots) and with the hostages who realise that their captors are not evil and that they have reasons for their actions.
Not only is Dog Day Afternoon a thrilling film, given its confined nature, it is also endearing due to the complex nature of its main characters and its anti-establishment themes.
The Shining (1980)
Many writers and artists have, at some point, running off to a secluded location for months to focus on their craft. This is exactly what Jack Torrance from The Shining thought too, who naively accepted a job offer that would keep him and his family stranded in an immense hotel over the entirety of winter. In theory this sounds like a great idea. However as we soon find out, too much seclusion can lead to insanity (and murder, in extreme cases).
The brilliance of The Shining is not in its jump scares, but in the way it unsettles the audience by using long tracking shots, symmetry and music to emphasise the spaciousness and eeriness of the hotel. The Shining is, without a doubt, one of the greatest horrors of all time, led by an intense performance by Jack Nicholson and masterful direction by Stanley Kubrick.
Part 2 of this article coming out soon!