Ever since Meghan Cox Gurdon accused young adult literature of being “too dark” in a Wall Street Journal editorial last June, authors, readers, and other people whose coming of age did not take place inside of a magical bubble of rainbows and unicorns, fired back, citing the innumerable reasons why teens enjoy dark fiction and why this is okay. So I feel no need to add this dialogue.
But, I will admit that I often gravitated toward the dark side when it comes to my choice of entertainment, and never so much as during my teen years. Back then I wore lots of black. I listened to The Smiths and The Cure. I read the Flowers in the Attic series in fifth and sixth grade and as a junior and senior I poured through Jerzy Kosinski’s novels. So when it came to movies, for every viewing of Dirty Dancing and Breakfast Club—which, as you may remember, are not without their bleak moments—there was also a Heavenly Creatures or a Harold and Maude.
And so, my dear teens, if you dare to step outside your normal world (which, no doubt is problem-free and smells like daydreams and bubblegum) I offer this list. Some of these films are old enough that I watched them back when I was a teenager. Others are more recent. And lest you think I’m forgetting about such dark and twisted cinematic greats as A Clockwork Orange or Brazil or Blue Velvet, keep in mind that this list is specific to teens and the teenage experience. Enjoy!
Ten (Moody) Must-See Films for Teenagers
(All synopses stolen from www.imdb.com )
1. THE VIRGIN SUICIDES – A group of male friends become obsessed with a group of mysterious sisters who are sheltered by their strict, religious parents after one of them commits suicide.
Here’s the trailer. The soundtrack by Air says it all.
2. HEATHERS – A girl who half-heartedly tries to be part of the “in crowd” of her school meets a rebel who teaches her a more devious way to play social politics.
Six words: I love my dead gay son.
3. HEAVENLY CREATURES – Two girls have an intense fantasy life; their parents, concerned the fantasy is too intense, separate them, and the girls take revenge.
My favorite Peter Jackson film (I don’t like Lord of the Rings, so shoot me) stars a young Kate Winslet and the always extraordinary Melanie Lynskey.
4. PARANOID PARK – A teenage skateboarder’s life begins to fray after he is involved in the accidental death of a security guard.
Directed by the brilliant Gus Van Sant, this film will haunt you for days. Paranoid Park perfectly captures that horrible sinking feeling that comes from carrying the burden of a terrible secret. Though thankfully, I’ve ever had a secret quite this terrible.
5. THE OUTSIDERS –When two poor greasers, Johnny, and Ponyboy are assaulted by a vicious gang, the socs, and Johnny kills one of the attackers, tension begins to mount between the two rival gangs, setting off a turbulent chain of events.
It’s unusual when a film is as good as the book that it’s based on, but I guess that’s when happens when you get Francis Ford Copolla to direct. It’s also one of my favorite books from my teen years, so if you haven’t read it, you might want to do that first. This trailer is kind of dated, but you may recognize some familiar faces in it.
6. BRICK – A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.
Film noir meets high school. Love it!
7. HAROLD AND MAUDE – Young, rich, and obsessed with death, Harold finds himself changed forever when he meets lively septuagenarian Maude at a funeral.
One of my favorite films of all time. My 10th grade English teacher showed it to us in class. Go Mrs. Hallal!
8. KIDS by Larry Clarke – An amoral, HIV-positive skateboarder sets out to deflower as many virgins as possible while a local girl who contracted his disease tries to save his next target from her same fate.
This film is probably the bleakest portrayal of teen life I have ever seen. Watch with caution and shower immediately afterwards.
9. THE GRADUATE – Recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock is trapped into an affair with Mrs. Robinson, who happens to be the wife of his father’s business partner and then finds himself falling in love with her teenage daughter, Elaine.
OK, so it’s not technically a teen film since Ben’s just graduated from college. But it’s close enough.
10. THE SWEET HEREAFTER – This film documents the effects of a tragic bus accident on the population of a small town.
Boy, how I loves me some Atom Egoyan (director) and Sarah Polley. This is quite possibly the saddest movie ever made.