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7 must-see movies about characters coping with isolation

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We're all under lockdown at the moment, and isolation is a theme that our favourite films have returned to again and again.

So, take inspiration from our blog list of classic isolation movies, all featuring characters learning to cope in tough circumstances. 

1. The Shining (1980)

Thought your period of self-isolation was tough? Spare a thought for Jack Nicholson's increasingly deranged hotel caretaker Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick's classic horror.

Adapted from Stephen King's book (with which it shares relatively little), The Shining takes place in the forbidding, haunted Overlook Hotel. Jack arrives with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and telepathic son Danny (Danny Lloyd), but finds himself apparently under the influence of supernatural evil.

Kubrick's groundbreaking approach, all prowling, Steadicam shots around fully lit corridors, creates an immediately chilling atmosphere of dread. The movie uses time in a disconcerting manner, abruptly using intertitles like 'One Month Later' and 'Tuesday' without any context, giving a sense of steadily escalating cabin fever.

While Jack eventually descends into axe-wielding madness ("Here's Johnny!"), Wendy emerges as an unexpectedly brave survivor. That said, here's some advice for those in lockdown in real life: take it from The Shining that if you see your partner writing, don't go near them. On the other hand, if they've been typing out the same thing repeatedly, it's probably best to call the police.


2. Cast Away (2000)

Not all isolation movies have to take place indoors. In Robert Zemeckis' wrenching drama, Tom Hanks plays a workaholic Fed Ex employee who's stranded on a remote tropical island following a terrifying plane crash.

As observed by the Queen in her recent BBC speech, moments of alone time are periods for reflection and meditation. And that's exactly what Hanks' character Chuck goes through, fashioning a friendship with a volleyball named Wilson over the course of four years, before an eventual return to civilisation reminds him of all he's lost.

That Chuck eventually learns to navigate the situation with decency and dignity (well, it is a Tom Hanks character after all) should be an inspiration for all of us.


3. Panic Room (2002)

Director David Fincher is a master of the claustrophobic and the macabre. From Seven to Gone Girl, he revels in the uncomfortable, seedy side of human nature, and also takes great relish in fashioning characters who are tenacious under difficult circumstances.

His 2002 thriller Panic Room is a case in point. Jodie Foster gives a physically demanding performance as Meg Altman, a woman trapped with her young daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) after robbers break into their lavish new Manhattan home.

Although the film is primarily a rip-roaring popcorn thriller, in hindsight, it has things to say about the importance of being resourceful under pressure. Meg's inventiveness in seeing off her assailants, Forrest Whitaker and Jared Leto among them, are leavened with the sense of compassion and caring for her diabetic daughter. We all need to look out for each other, even as we're locked in tight.


4. Oldboy (2003)

Only the first part of Park Chan-wook's brutal revenge thriller is concerned with self-isolation. But it's pivotal in setting the scene for the grotesquely violent, morbidly funny onslaught that follows.

Intense South Korean actor Choi Min-sik plays Oh Dae-su, a man imprisoned in a room for 15 years without any obvious explanation. When he's eventually set free by his unseen captor, he embarks on a course of revenge that eventually takes some horribly personal turns.

While we wouldn't wish this kind of lockdown scenario on anyone, take it from Oh Dae-su that it's important to stay focused and disciplined when you're unable to travel anywhere else.


5. The Martian (2015)

Self-isolating on terra firma is one thing. But astronaut Mark Watney is forced to undergo similar circumstances on a completely different planet in Ridley Scott's terrific sci-fi drama.

Adapted from Andy Weir's book, The Martian is a rousing story of bravery and imagination under extreme duress. Matt Damon gives one of his most likeable performances as Watney, a botanist accidentally left stranded on Mars by his crew members following a dust storm.

As both the crew and the Earth-based NASA team vie to bring him back, Watney remains chipper and inventive, learning to grow his own potatoes and suffering through the back catalogue of his team's "disco music". Unlike Mark, we won't judge if a soundtrack of ABBA classics will help get you through the next several months.


6. Room (2016)

Emma Donoghue's gruelling yet ultimately inspiring novel Room makes for great drama under the direction of Lenny Abrahamson. Brie Larson gives an Oscar-winning performance as the young mother incarcerated in a small space with her young son (a tremendous Jacob Tremblay), who has grown up with no concept of the outside world.

For a movie that starts off with such a dark and claustrophobic theme, it's heartening to note the story's eventual path towards redemption. When Joy and Jack are finally liberated from their confinement, the most basic things like the glimpse of clouds in the sky take on a magical air. No doubt we'll all be feeling the same thing when this pandemic is finally over.


7. The Lighthouse (2020)

In these times of isolation, we might be tempted to get utterly smashed together. Well, what else are we supposed to do? However, if you do get on the sauce, take heed from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in recently released black and white chiller The Lighthouse.

Directed by Robert Eggers (The Witch), this is a wickedly entertaining story about two 19th century lighthouse keepers going steadily (and not so quietly) mad together. Both a throwback to early silent cinema horror classics and a morbidly funny story of insanity, the film wrongfoots us at every turn.

The two central characters, Wake and Winslow, end up fashioning their own alcohol, which eventually pickles their collective sanity. But putting that aside, the film might inspire you to brew your own booze – just be on the lookout for demonic mermaids. That's when you know you've had too much.

What are your favourite movies about isolation? Let us know @Cineworld.

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