Mood Swings: The Cathartic

Have you ever been stuck for a film or show to watch, or book to read? You know you want to desperately immerse into an alternate universe, but you just can’t find the “one”? Well, Bon Vivant has all the answers. Each week, we will publish an article in our Mood Swings series with a different emotional theme, providing you with the best on-screen and reading material to fit your every mood. Do you want the inspirational? The quirky? The depressing? Be sure to check here every Tuesday to find your fix.


It has always been a mystery to me as to why so many of us love to sit and watch a film that results in a good cry-fest, as if we didn’t already have so much to deal with in reality; however, I recently came across a relatively new term called “neurocinematic” research. What this research suggests is that we actually make ourselves happier by watching sad films, although explanations for why seem to vary. Some say it is because these movies makes us reflect on our lives and appreciate those around us. Others conclude that the hormones evoked cause us to care about others. Whatever the science is, depressing movies help us reach catharsis – which the always-reliable Oxford Dictionary defines as “the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions”. So, whether you are feeling like you’re bottling up a lot of your troubles or in need of some emotion-wrenching drama, sit down to watch or read these heart-wrenching gems.


The Fault in our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

You may have been turned off by this film due to the hoards of teenage girls worldwide with mascara-stained cheeks from the buckets of tears they shed as they fan-girled over Ansel Elgort. That said – and even if you have strict policies against teenage romances – you must watch this movie simply for the beautiful and witty dynamics between the lead characters. Based on John Green’s #1 bestseller, The Fault in Our Stars follows two cancer patients (Shailene Woodley and Elgort) on a journey to visit an author in Amsterdam.

Warning: This is a major tear-jerker that explores the depths of how one deals with the loss of a loved one. However, the film, like the novel, is so full of trinkets of hilarity, Green’s artistically crafted words, and beautiful experiences that we are uplifted in light of the sadness. By combining all these factors, the film succeeds in reassuring an audience that love is something to live for.

Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station (2013)

When you hear that a movie is based on a true story, you know you are in for a seriously heart-breaking watch. Fruitvale Station follows 22-year-old Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) on the last day of 2008, as he meets family, friends, and enemies. Whilst some reviews have criticised this picture for tackling too big of social issues – like racial tensions and poverty – without actually offering a commentary, nobody can deny how both moving and gripping the picture is as it explores the intricacies of life in a single day. In the space of 24 hours, Jordan portrays a man struggling amongst the complexities of life to new heights, which is as sad as it is infuriating. This film is by no means perfect, but what in life is?

The Impossible

The Impossible (2012)

The story behind The Impossible is so important and will always be relevant. A regular family, Henry (Ewan McGregor), Maria (Naomi Watts), and their three children, are spending Christmas in Thailand in a coastline villa when the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami hits. The film explores the chaotic and horrific aftermath of this natural disaster through this family and, in doing so, exposes the brutal reality of what so many have suffered through. In a question of survival, the movie plays on your heart-strings, reminding you of both the power and strength of family and also the importance of kindness. You should watch this not only for entertainment, but also for its significance within our history.


Grey's Anatomy

Grey’s Anatomy (2005-)

Good grief. On the surface, Grey’s Anatomy is a drama centred around the lives of five medical interns in a Seattle hospital and the challenges they encounter, but you know that Game of Thrones cruel tactic of killing off the character they worked so hard to make you love? Well, meet the show that did that when Thrones was still wearing diapers. You’ll be in tears as each character deals with medical dilemmas, relationships, and life difficulties that you are bound to relate to. This will definitely test your Netflix-binging abilities, because there are a whopping 13 seasons to get through. Be prepared to say goodbye to your social life, never mind your degree.

The Killing

The Killing (2011-2014)

The first season of The Killing dives into the police investigation of a missing teen, Rosie Larson, via Detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos). From this, the story unravels in an exploration of a grieving family and the complexities of police work. The word I would use to described this series is “gloom”: it’s a gloomy obsession with death, a gloomy setting, gloomy emotions and, if all of this doesn’t make you weep, Linden’s sad woolly jumpers certainly will. This gloom makes each episode dark and intense, finding its way into the lives of many characters – politicians, law enforcers, and high school students – and, eventually, even you will begin to feel pretty depressed. Can I really follow that up with “you must watch this”?

True Detective

True Detective (2014-2015)

This shows charts a series of police investigations into the secrets of those involved both within and outside the law. Firstly, let’s just applaud the incredible cast of this series: Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn, and Taylor Kitsch. Similarly to The Killing, True Detective is dark and brooding, but this is not like just any cop drama. The characters, especially McConaughey’s, are multi-layered and eccentric, with the dialogue between them that creates a suspense that grips the audience well-after the credentials. It is this intensity, combined with so much tragedy, that will leave you needing a box of tissues per episode.


The Book Thief by Mark Zusak (2008)the book thief cover

This is a book that necessitates several re-reads, simply because of the wonderful way this highly original novel is crafted and written. Narrated by Death, he – or it? – tells the story of Liesel, a ten-year-old girl living in Germany during World War II, who is being fostered by Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Against a background of a brutal Nazi regime, the horror of war and its economic struggles, Liesel comes to befriend a Jewish man that her foster parents are hiding. Any story that explores the Holocaust is destined to be heart-breaking, and The Book Thief is no exception – a child’s innocence is destroyed and Death is a constant presence. With that said, it is also life-affirming; through books, Liesel’s powerful character learns the strength of words and how even through times of hardship, the human spirit can win wars.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2009)Racing in the Rain

The narrator of this book tells the story of how he brings his family, who is on the brinks of falling apart, back together again – though he cannot speak. Who is the narrator you may ask? Well, it is Enzo, the loyal family dog. Even through his muteness, Enzo beautifully recounts the highs and lows of the life of his master, a race-car driver. Racing for Enzo becomes a metaphor for life, and in his telling of it, our lovable narrator is able to see things humans often take for granted. Naturally, this provokes barrels of tears that you didn’t believe was possible. Please read this wonderful little book – it is a New York Times Bestseller after all.

We Were Liars coverWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart (2014)

This award-winning story is as irresistible as it is haunting, and one you will not forget – not even after you read it for the tenth time. It is actually difficult to review since there is so much to talk about. I am tempted to just say “read it!” and leave it at that, but I know that is not enough. Cadence Sinclair, our protagonist, has been visiting an island every year to stay with her grandparents, but in Summer Fifteen (her fifteenth visit), she gets into an accident, leaving her with memory loss of that summer. When she returns in Summer Sixteen, everything has changed. This coming-of-age mystery is packed with romance, metaphors, tragedy, and upsetting reminders of how our modern world has come to be. Read this for an experience you won’t forget.

To read more from the Mood Swings series, click here