this valentine's, spend some time with these dark romances

Most Hollywood productions would have you believe romance begins with a meet-cute and ends with a walk into the sunset. But luckily these filmmakers understand that love is complex, messy and often doomed.

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14 February 2017, 12:35am

Valentine's Day is usually sold to us as a time to indulge in sickly sweet Disney-esque romance, but if you're like us, and that makes you want to regurgitate a little bit, we might be able to help you out. Rather than wallowing in the shallow affections of Hollywood, join us for a slightly less flowery look at love on film. From Joaquin Phoenix falling for an operating system in Her, to the ultimate messy teenage romance of Pig and Runt in Disco Pigs, these are the rom-com alternatives that remind us love is real, even if it's not always simple. 

Benny and Joon (1993)
The 1993 offbeat rom-com Benny and Joon is, admittedly, one of Johnny Depp's less iconic movies, often overshadowed by the likes of Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow. It tells the story of mentally ill Juniper, aka Joon, who falls in love with a quirky weirdo named Sam (Depp). Sam models himself on Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, exemplified in one glorious scene in which he re-enacts Chaplin's famous dinner roll dance in a Mid Western diner. Unsurprisingly, Joon's protective older brother Ben does not approve of the pairing, resulting in an endearing tale of forbidden love. The film has been celebrated for its moving portrayal of love and mental illness, and is a must see for movie buffs and Netflix-and-chillers alike.

Disco Pigs (2001)
Disco Pigs follows the lives of a young Cillian Murphy and Elaine Cassidy as two Cork teenagers, who share a lifelong, but deeply unhealthy, bond. The friends, nicknamed "Pig" and "Runt", were born in the same hospital at the same time, and grow up next door to each other. They are inseparable, but as their 17th birthdays draw closer it becomes clear that Pig (Murphy) has a budding violent streak and has developed feelings for Runt beyond friendship. Pig makes his feelings clear when he kisses her following a rampage at a disco. Jealousy soon envelops Pig, as Runt begins to receive attention from other men as she gets older, which ultimately leads the couple's relationship to tragically implode, in a manner rivalling that of Romeo and Juliet's.

Love me if you Dare or Jeux d'enfants (2003)
Love me if you Dare is a French-Belgian film directed by Yann Samuell, starring Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) and Guillaume Canet (The Beach.) Much like in Disco Pigs, Sophie and Julien are childhood friends who share a very special, yet unhealthy, bond. Their relationship centres around a game they have been playing since the day they met as children; whoever holds a special tin music box is allowed to administer the other a dare, and vice versa. Beginning as an innocent childhood rally, the game becomes more extreme and dangerous as the couple develop feelings for each other, and start use the box as a means of emotional blackmail. The film is a dark romantic comedy shot with extraordinary energy and high-speed editing, culminating in one of the more unpredictable and spectacular endings in cinema.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Lars and the Real Girl is the story of Lars (Ryan Gosling), a social misfit who lives in his brother's garage, and his girlfriend, Bianca. Oh also, Bianca is actually a sex doll that Lars brought online. To Lars, Bianca is not merely a doll - she is his Brazilian-Danish missionary girlfriend who has just arrived from the airport. The film is a moving and endearing story about human kindness, exemplified in the small towns rallying together to make Bianca the 'real girl' feel at home, for Lars' sake. In the decade since this film came out, Gosling has found fame and acclaim across several projects (he might just win an Oscar this year), but the genuineness with which he presents Lars Lindstrom still shines among his impressive performances.

Her (2013)
Her, set at an unspecified time in the future, follows Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely letter writer in the final stages of his divorce. Theodore decides to purchase the new OS1, advertised as the world's first artificially intelligent operating system; "It's not just an operating system, it's a consciousness," the ad states. After installation, the system tells Phoenix's character that her name is Samantha (voiced beautifully by Scarlett Johansson). Soon, Theodore and Samantha find themselves falling in love as she starts to grow, and develops the ability to harbour feelings. The relationship at the centre of Her may lack a physical form, but it is nonetheless an example of the universality of love.

Nymphomaniac part I & II (2013)
The two Nymphomaniac movies are the third and final instalment in Lars Von Triers unofficially titled "Depression Trilogy", featuring Anarchist and Melancholia. The outrageous and often perverse films explore the very nature of female sexuality through the turbulent life story of self-confessed sex addict Joe (played by Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg). The first films follow Joe as a young girl discovering sexual pleasure in the more playful part I, to a desperate young woman who abandons any chance at a normal life with her young son and lover Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) in the pursuit of sexual fulfilment (part II). While romance doesn't win out in the end, the flashes of happiness between Joe and Jerome are a painful reminder that love often isn't enough.

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Text Georgie Bretherton
Screenshot via YouTube